HRA and EDA in Cook County discuss possible merger
WTIP file photo

HRA and EDA in Cook County discuss possible merger

Though the discussion is in a preliminary phase, it’s possible two local agencies with levy authority will merge into a joint entity in the near future.

Representatives from both the Cook County/Grand Marais Joint Economic Development Authority (EDA) and the recently formed Housing Redevelopment Authority (HRA) discussed this week during public meetings the concept of merging the two entities.

The notion of merging the agencies comes less than a week after current EDA Director Beth Drost announced her resignation. Drost is leaving to become the executive director of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe.

If a merger were to occur, current HRA Director Jason Hale would likely lead the merged entities, according to preliminary discussions.

The HRA was formed in August 2021 following a 5-0 vote by the Cook County Board of Commissioners. The HRA was formed to address a critical issue facing the community, the board of commissioners said upon approving the entity, that being a lack of housing in Cook County.

Similar to the EDA, the HRA was created with levy authority, though its budget must be approved annually by the county board. The initial budget for the HRA in 2022 was $125,000. The work of the HRA has been largely praised by the community following the hiring of Hale in March 2022.

The Cook County/Grand Marais Joint Economic Development Authority, meanwhile, was created in 1988. The agency has a checkered past in the eyes of many local residents, with questionable land sales, funding for a local golf course, and the handling of financials and a business park in Grand Marais being among the varied issues that have made headlines in recent years.

During an interview with WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs on Jan. 19, Hale said there is an intersection of housing and economic development in Cook County. During the HRA meeting on Jan. 18, Hale expressed a willingness to lead a single entity if the HRA and EDA merge into a single unit. Listen to the full audio from the Jan. 19 WTIP interview below.