Strong Towns Podcast
Episode 215

Brainerd Council President Gary Scheeler

Charles Marohn published on

The council president of Chuck's hometown of Brainerd, MN, Gary Scheeler, stops in the studio to talk about the future of the city. The conversation gets heated in the way you would expect with two passionate Minnesotans. 

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  • Ryan Wallace

    Congrats to Mr. Marohn on keeping his cool during this interview, as my reaction was constantly to sigh, shake my head, and drop my face in my palms. It felt like everything that came out of Mr. Scheeler's mouth was from the misguided car-centric past with no ability to see it any other way.

  • Patrick Miner

    Very peculiar that Scheeler and his businesses are so focused on "traffic count." If I were a business owner, I'd be focused on "wallet count", regardless of how the wallet arrived at my business. Wallets funding a non-motorized transport lifestyle may even have more spending money.

  • Adam

    Exactly, traffic counts are irrelevant if none of the cars stops. Downtown Brainerd and other small downtowns/commercial areas like it often don't have a one-stop business that is a draw and anchor on its own. It is the network of small interdependent shops and eateries that create the draw, but with 40+ mph traffic and 5 lanes to cross the ability to connect that network is severely hampered. Kudos to you, Chuck, for not flying off the handle.

  • Derek Benedict

    Halfway through I'm in suspense! Who prevails? Can Chuck get through?

    This is Chuck's genius to tread where no urbanist usually goes. Councilmember Scheeler's perspective is absolutely status quo. Really appreciative of Scheeler's participation, too.

  • Friar Newborg

    Scheeler probably means well. But...
    He's very inconsistent:
    + He wants more cars in Brainerd, but
    + He wants an Arborium to walk through (presumably after someone drives to get there.)
    He lives on a Cul-de-sac, for goodness sakes, so he clearly does not get walkability.
    Someone should force him to bike to work for a few summer months - like Boris Johnston, the popular mayor of London does. Maybe then, he would wake up.

  • Friar Newborg

    Scheeler says he is an investor in Brainerd and Baxter too.
    Here's a question I would like to ask Mr Scheeler, does he think transforming Brainerd into a more desirable, more walkable city would help or hurt those (including himself) who invest in the town? Might Brainerd build a competitive advantage, as Chuck suggests, by focusing on attracting those who want to live in a walkable city? I was born in Detroit ("the motor city") but gave up my car years ago, when I decided I would only live in walkable places. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. Not only did I improve the quality of my life - but I also have saved maybe $5,000 - 10,000 per annum by ditching the car. It is not only poor folk who make such decisions.

  • Max Siegel

    I really enjoyed this episode.  I hope Chuck can have more guests that present conflicting views.  What I found most interesting was how well reasoned his conclusions were.  Mr. Scheeler's opinions are based on his experience of what works (in the short term), to achieve very specific goals (increasing the tax base?).  

    It appears that he views his role as fostering a positive business client.  He even mentioned that as his priority. This means fulfilling the metrics that potential new businesses require in order to relocate.  There seemed to be very little consideration of what happens in the long term.  And frankly, who could blame him.  As he describes it, the city government is in danger of not being able to sustain itself.   Not acquiescing to the demands of these companies comes with the threat of severe cuts to city services.  Since the future cannot be predicted, why abandon efforts to bring in money today even if those actions come with obligations that could possibly (likely?) be hurtful in the future? 

    Maybe I missed it, but I would have liked to have heard what his vision was for Brainard .   Vision is what allows us to think about the future.  Currently, it sounds Mr. Scheeler is making logical short term arguments to react to current economic difficulty.  If there is no vision to work towards, how could he be expected to move out of his current thinking.  Vision also allows you to justify short-term pain for longer term gain.

  • Mark Dawson

    I appreciate Mr. Scheeler's candor in the interview, and was struck by his discussion of the budget for the city of Brainerd.

    You are right to lose sleep over the situation. Half of your town's budget comes from the state? Is that typical for Minnesota? What happens in the next hard recession, or if the state government decides that it can no longer afford to subsidize municipalities in this way? Mr. Scheeler notes that the city would go bankrupt without some $6 million in outside funds. How can the residents of the town accept the idea that they can only cover the costs of half of the government that they want? And on that topic, how much debt does Brainerd carry, and how much of a liability does the town carry for the infrastructure it is responsible for maintaining and, ultimately, replacing?

  • Mark Dawson

    This is not directly related to this conversation, but this brief blog/podcast about a construction project in Chicago touches on just about every theme that has been addressed on the StrongTowns site.

    About a mile south of where I live, motorists on Western Avenue find an overpass that takes traffic over the Belmont/Western intersection. It was built about 50 years ago to deal with congestion at this busy intersection, near where RIverview Amusement Park once stood. The structure is falling apart, and the city plans to demolish it this year.

    In this brief podcast conversation the commentators address how the city now must cope with an ill-conceived decision made by people long dead. The reinforced concrete structure is shot, but demolishing the bridge will create a huge mess in the area and snarl north/south traffic for two years on a major arterial, and in a city where traveling north or south (all the train lines converge on the Loop) has long been a problem. But it would cost far more to replace it, and next to impossible with current highway standards for lane width and approach ramps. The viaduct has left in its literal shadow a dead commercial district.

    One of the commentators observed "Every attempt to correct congestion just makes it worse."

    And then they talk of a solution, building a new elevated train line north south that would reduce the need to drive that route, a fine idea in my view, but one of the commentators said that everyone who lives in the area should "put $300 in a pot to pay for that rail project. $300? Try $3,000, or maybe a lot more, for every taxpaying household in the city, and that at a time when the city's finances are the worst they have been since the viaduct was built 50 years ago.