Council welcomes Sokup, Holmes; Hillmann discusses Covid relief funds; New management, future ownership, at The Grand

Council welcomes Sokup, Holmes; Hillmann discusses Covid relief funds; New management, future ownership, at The Grand

The Northfield City Council convened last night for the first meeting of 2023, and the first item on the agenda was

Northfield City Councilor Davin Sokup

administering the oath of office to two new members of the council and one returning for another term.

Councilor Kathleen Holmes is now the representative of Northfield’s First Ward. Holmes has lived in Northfield with her family since 2015. She has served on the Northfield Downtown Development Corporation Board of Directors, which is now the Friends of Downtown Northfield, since 2018, and has served as President of that board for the past two years.

Councilor Davin Sokup now holds one of the two At-Large seats on the City Council. Sokup has served on the Northfield Planning Commission for the past year, and also works as a legislative assistant in the Minnesota Senate. When he took the oath of office last night, he became the first openly trans man to hold public office in Greater Minnesota.

Mayor Rhonda Pownell said the new councilors have a lot of work ahead of them, but the council is working with them, and they are putting in the necessary work.

“There is such a steep learning curve, however they’ve done their due diligence. They’ve asked their questions. They’ve had time to reflect, and they’ve also been watching the council meetings. [We’ve been working] to just really give them all of the opportunity that we could to get them up to speed.”

Councilor Jessica Peterson White also took the oath of office last night. Peterson won re-election in November for her third full term serving Northfield’s Fourth Ward.

District Covid funds were meticulously accounted for

The accounting firm of Clifton Larson Allen recently completed and presented what they called a “clean” audit of the Northfield School District’s fiscal year running from July of 2021 through June of 2022.

Among the findings in that report is how the district spent the $6 million in Covid-19 relief funding that it received from the federal government and the State of Minnesota.

Northfield Superintendent of Schools Dr. Matt Hillmann said the money – like all school funding in the state – was highly regulated, and the funding was structured in such a way that school districts were not allowed to put the money away and save it, nor were they allowed to use the money for purposes that were no effective in alleviating the issues caused by Covid-19.

Hillmann said the Northfield School District spent the money in a variety of ways that he feels did help things during the pandemic.

Extra school counselors were hired, he said, because the two-plus-years of the global pandemic took a significant toll on students’ mental health. Some of the money was used to keep the premiums in the district’s self-funded insurance program stable. Money was used, he said, to supplement the school budget and keep things from going into the red in the face of declining enrollment. And then there were the fundamental needs that arose from operating schools in order to keep them safe and clean.

“Custodial overtime to make sure that all of the buildings were cleaned even more regularly. Additional equipment, so we could be more efficient in cleaning, and the cleaning solutions. All of the other personal protective equipment that we needed. Substantially increased substitute costs. Those are just some of those things.”

Another program that received a boost from the Covid funding is the district’s Community School program which was expanded from Greenvale Park Elementary to both Bridgewater and Spring Creek Elementary Schools. The district has also been able to offer a program called Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling to some 60 members of the faculty, giving them high quality training in the science of reading.

Hillmann reiterated that there are misconceptions about how schools spent the extra funding, and that nothing was done without approval by the State of Minnesota.

“There’s a narrative from time to time about, well, schools have all this money because of all the Covid relief funding, and there’s sometimes a perception that schools have either not spent it and are asking for more money when they don’t need it, or they’ve wasted it. I can’t talk about all the schools across the country, but what I can talk about is here in Northfield. We were required to have an approved plan before we received any reimbursement from any of the Covid Relief Fund.”

Hillmann also said how proud he is of the financial staff in managing the funds on the fly, in the face of such strict regulations.

Jeff Johnson’s full conversation with Northfield Superintendent of Schools Dr. Matt Hillmann can be heard here

Ness, Mulford take control of The Grand

For the first time in 21 years, Northfield’s Grand Event Center, the former Vaudeville theater, turned movie house,

Photo courtesy of Jesse Steed

turned restaurant is under new management.

As of last Sunday, Lindsay Ness and Jake Mulford have taken over operations of the Grand from Chuck Pryor, one of Northfield’s most successful restaurateurs. Ness, who has been the front-of-house general manager of the Grand since October of 2021, said she, Mulford and Pryor had been discussing the transaction for more than a year. She said her and Mulford’s intent is to simply build on the success Pryor has created and not change too much right away.

Right now, the Grand’s business model is to host private events such as weddings and parties, serving breakfast every Sunday morning from 7am until noon, and occasionally opening for a trade show or a music event.

“We would like to be open to the public more often,” said Ness, “and we would like to expand our business hours. But in order to do that we need to find someone to run the kitchen.”

The stately red brick building, bult on the corner of Washington and 4th Streets in 1898, is a cavernous space with a large area behind the stage. Mulford, who has been a manager at Reunion snce that restaurant opened four years ago, said that area could provide intriguing space for expansion in the future.

“There is potential to build out down the road. There is some space that is currently unutilized and has potential to be an additional bar which could be open seven days a week to the public. It could be kind of an auxiliary, almost Speakeasy, but we’d have to reopen an old door that has been since bricked up.”

Despite the obstacles to longer hours and expansion, the two said they are very excited to be moving forward on this venture. Ness said they are prepared for it, pointing to the experience each of them has in restaurant management, and because Pryor has been allowing them more and more responsibility of the Grand’s day-to-day management as their negotiations progressed.

Ness said, in fact, Pryor has left both the business and the new ownership team in very good circumstances.

“It’s set up for success. Chuck left us with an incredibly full 2023 calendar. The first six weeks of this year are booked, which is almost unheard of in January and February, so we are off and running right away. Breakfast is busy. He handed it to us in a nice position.”

Ness said she and Mulford have not taken official ownership of the building yet, but a closing is planned for April 1st.

Jeff Johnson’s full conversation with Lindsay Ness and Jake Mulford can be heard here

Rich Larson is the KYMN News Director. Contact him at

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