In the 1960s, the bustling suburb we know as Savage was just one meager square mile.
What is known as downtown Savage today was the entire city back then. Then in 1969, it was annexed with Glendale Township. The square mile became a 17-square-mile city, recalled Mayor Janet Williams.
“Times have just changed so much,” she said.
Less than 50 years later since the historic annexation, Savage has grown quickly. And as it grows, it no doubt faces challenges. Traffic is something city leaders monitor, and so is housing, which is almost all built out.
The population will cap out at less than 40,000, and the latest U.S. census data shows a total of 30,807 residents.
“Because we’re getting to full build out… there’s very little land left,” said City Administrator Barry Stock.
A hot topic
Growth in Savage is a topic that matters to surrounding communities. For example, the Prior Lake-Savage Area School District is facing a shortage of space as its classrooms burst with a growing student population. This fall voters could consider a referendum that would bring more space to the crowded district.
Stock said Savage’s growth spills over into this discussion. Some people feel less growth would lead to fewer problems in the district, Stock said.
“That’s created a lot of talk,” he said.
In the 1990s, the city considered — but ultimately didn’t execute — a moratorium on growth.
“It was too fast,” Stock said.
He’s a fan of population growth because it offsets costs for taxpayers as inflation and cost of living creates increases in the city budget. If it weren’t for a growing population, Stock said, taxpayers could see their bills jump.
But, he said, it should be “manageable,” which he says it is right now.
Despite the recent need for redevelopment, there are still new businesses cropping up all the time. Earlier this year, grocery giant Hy-Vee opened in Savage, and so did coffee chain Tim Hortons.
“They know that this area is still a growing area,” Savage Communications Manager Emily Gunderson said of the company leaders launching businesses in the city.
Still, there isn’t really a daytime lunch crowd, Stock said. Often the people who live in Savage work in other cities, Stock said. And the people who work here have the types of jobs that offer 30-minute lunch breaks that people take at their desks or in a break room. These are, he said, government jobs or teaching gigs.
So when a company does put a business here, they’ve put in the research to know it will work.
An attractive place to live
Why would someone want to live in Savage? Leaders don’t point to just one aspect of the city. It’s everything from low crime rates to more than 20 parks to access to three school districts, Gunderson says.
Stock said another selling point is that it has a rural feel but is also close to the Twin Cities. He also mentioned the trails and sidewalks, which he said are designed for community conversations and connections.
Stock said Savage is beginning to create a new comprehensive plan, which it does every 10 years.
As they look to the future, he says the population increases come as no surprise.
“The growth that we’re all experiencing in Savage has been planned for,” he said.
Stock is not worried about reaching near maximum development. He said redevelopment will become more of a focus as the cycle of businesses and homeowners leaving their old spaces for new ones continues, he said.
“It’s just a cycle,” he said, recalling an example of when the grocer Rainbow Foods closed. Fresh Thyme took its place when it opened last summer.
Plus, he added, growth is not as rapid in recent years. The average number of housing units added in Savage from 2000-2009 was about 240, according to data provided by the city of Savage. From 2010 to now, it’s about 158, the data shows. Williams again marvels at the changes, remembering her work as a teenager at the grocery store that filled orders for Cargill when the barges came in.
She also thinks of the city employees who have seen Savage grow over time, recalling the one-square-mile town to the nationally recognized city it is today. These are people who have lived here their whole lives, she remarked.
“That must say something, too, about the community,” Williams said.