5G and Small Cell Infrastructure

The things to know about the world’s newest technology disruptor.

Terms such as 5G and small cell infrastructure are buzz words in today’s ever-changing innovative landscape, but what does that mean for the communities we live and work in?  Federal mandates are constantly being updated and new technology is replacing ‘old’ technology quicker than many can keep track of.  What was once cutting-edge is becoming obsolete faster and faster.  As the world continues to rely on more data, the demand for access to that data continues to grow.  Our technology-reliant world is driving carriers to build more towers and access points throughout the world.  As these initiatives continue to grow, the communities we live and work in are starting to prepare. Small cell infrastructure and 5G preparation can look different depending on the type of community you live in and where you are in the United States.

Here are 10 things to know about small cell infrastructure. 
  1. What exactly is small cell infrastructure? The CTIA, an organization that advocates and represents the U.S. wireless communications industry, defines small cell as: Small radio equipment and antennas that can be placed on structures such as streetlights, the sides of buildings, or poles. They are about the size of a pizza box, and are essential for transmitting data to and from a wireless device.
  2. Today, the United State is at critical mass for data. We play more games, we use more apps and the tools that power our daily lives rely on application-driven data. 5G brings greater speed, lower latency and the ability to connect more devices at once.
  3. Federal mandates surrounding spectrum and capacity availability have been contentious throughout the years as politicians and communities gain more knowledge. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has developed a 5G FAST Plan, a comprehensive strategy to facilitate and accelerate the deployment of America’s high-speed internet access.
  4. While other countries around the globe are advancing their technology infrastructure, the United States is taking steps to lead the world in 5G. The FCC is committed to increasing spectrum availability, updating infrastructure policy to encourage the private sector to invest and modernizing outdated regulations that will promote digital opportunities for all Americans.
  5. Have we seen 5G before? Yes, several test markets have activated for large events, especially events that take place on a world-stage. States like California, New York, Colorado, Minnesota and Texas, all of which have high growth rates, have also been investing heavily in small cell infrastructure and 5G technology. Carriers are aggressively rolling this technology out in densely populated areas to more easily distribute data in high deployment areas. Additionally, large corporate headquarters are working closely with carriers to implement related projects and technologies.
  6. Big goals and big legislation are driving the 5G movement. We’re working closely with municipalities throughout the United States to help them understand the processes that will be required and affected by small cell infrastructure. 
  7. Small cell infrastructure is being implemented where the demand is highest. 5G not only increases coverage and speed but most importantly increases capacity, and that’s why carriers are focusing on densely populated areas first. 
  8. 5G will still come from large cellular towers, but small cell infrastructure will be placed to increase capacity and data availability. Tower companies are working closely with carriers to deliver alternative solutions.
  9. In 2017, the first federal mandate was implemented to say that cities around the country cannot say no to 5G infrastructure. The mandate states that cities and communities are not able to prevent 5G from happening, but they are able to set regulations that a carrier must abide by. The question is not whether communities will choose to participate, but rather if they’re prepared for it.
  10. Small cell infrastructure will affect everyone from the most urban environments to rural towns. Cities are developing ordinances to regulate how small cell infrastructure is implemented throughout their communities. Several cities are developing permits, planner reviews and regulations to ensure that small cell infrastructure is structurally sound, aesthetically-pleasing and are protecting historically significant landmarks. 

Brownfields: The land of opportunity, not blight

By Ryan Spencer, Senior Environmental Scientist

The term “brownfield” describes property that has the presence or potential presence of hazardous materials, pollution, or contamination. Generally, brownfields consist of current or former industrial, manufacturing, or recycling sites that are vacant and underutilized by the community. However, they can also include current/former gas stations or drycleaner sites located in residential neighborhoods. Brownfield sites are often an eyesore and contain dilapidated buildings, poorly kept grounds, and miscellaneous trash. Cities usually obtain ownership of brownfield sites through tax forfeiture which causes concern due to unknown environmental risks and pressure to redevelop. Rather than viewing a brownfield site as a liability, experienced cities and developers see them as an opportunity.

In recent years, brownfield redevelopment has become more common due to infill redevelopment and the shortage of developable land in urban areas. Through up-front work and investments, communities can take steps to ensure their brownfields are attractive to developers and ready for redevelopment. Additionally, there are numerous investigation and cleanup funding sources available along with additional avenues to obtain liability assurances, which help curb redevelopment costs and reduce contamination liability.

Do your due diligence
Performing environmental due diligence on a brownfield site uncovers potential environmental risks and contamination liabilities. Investing in the upfront due diligence is an important step in any successful redevelopment project. Typically, this is achieved by completing a Phase I Environmental Assessment (ESA), subsequent Phase II ESA (if warranted), and an Asbestos and Regulated Materials Survey on buildings (if present). The potential environmental risks are always scarier than actual risks. Once the environmental risk area is understood, the site is one step closer to redevelopment.

How do I fund this?
Investigation and cleanup funding are critical components of brownfield projects. If you don’t have the money, where do you start? There are many local, state, and federal funding sources available for brownfield projects in Minnesota. This is great, but can also be overwhelming. It’s important to understand the funding source application requirements, schedule, and scoring criteria. Funding is typically awarded in cycles (often biannually), resulting in vigorous competition among projects. The projects that best meet the funding source’s criteria will be awarded funding.

Upcoming funding opportunities
In Minnesota, two major investigation/cleanup funding sources include:

Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) Contamination Cleanup and Redevelopment Grants – Applications Due May 1 and November 1 each year.

These grants are available to both public and private redevelopment sites and can be used for environmental investigation and/or cleanup. Applications are eligible if known or suspected soil or groundwater contamination is present. Key scoring criterion include; creating and retaining jobs and affordable housing.

Additional information regarding DEED funding can be found at:  https://mn.gov/deed/government/financial-assistance/cleanup/contamination.jsp

Metropolitan Council Tax Base Revitalization Account (TBRA) – Applications Due November 1 each year.

TBRA provides $5 million annually to investigate and clean up brownfields for public and private redevelopment sites. The funding is limited to sites located within the 7-county Twin Cities metro region and key scoring criteria include; increasing tax base, preserving livable wage jobs, and producing affordable housing.

Additional information regarding TBRA funding can be found at:  https://metrocouncil.org/Communities/Services/Livable-Communities-Grants/Tax-Base-Revitalization-Account-(TBRA).aspx

Brownfields – a path to prosperity
A successful brownfield redevelopment can have a substantial impact on a community. It spurs economic momentum while showing commitment to continuous city improvements. Surly Brewing in Minneapolis was once a blighted underutilized property and is now a booming social attraction with rapid development occurring around it. Similarly, Kaposia Landing in South St. Paul – a popular waterfront park and recreation area – was once a landfill with little to no community value.

The next time you drive by a vacant underutilized property, think of what could be. Chances are, you are not the only one who has a vision of the site being repurposed, revitalized, and an asset to the community.

Ryan Spencer is a Sr. Environmental Scientist on WSB’s Environmental team. His expertise extends to Phase I & II Environmental Site Assessments, construction soil screening and documentation, contamination disposal and other hazardous material mitigation. He consults closely with both public organizations and private developers on their environmental needs.

A hole-in-one solution

Creating a sustainable water reuse system for the Rochester Golf & Country Club

By Bob Barth, Director of Land Development, WSB

For over 100 years, the Rochester Golf & Country Club has been a fixture in its community. Since opening, land around the course developed, but the rolling greens of the Country Club still attract golfers as they did in the early 1900s when a group of avid golfers leased 100 acres from two Mayo Clinic doctors.

The Decorah Shale effect
The landscape 100 years ago was very different than it is today. As development occurred throughout the area, the course began to experience water issues. The course is located on the Decorah Shale Geologic Formation, an over 60-foot-thick layer of shale bedrock. Water passes through the impermeable shale layer slowly, causing drainage issues for many properties throughout southeastern Minnesota. In the case of the golf course, water is unable to penetrate the shallow shale layer located below the surface of the course, creating drainage issues and pockets of standing water on fairways and greens.

The most inexperienced golfer knows that standing water on a golf course leads to playability issues. At one point, there were playability issues on seven of the 18 holes – equating to 3,000 feet of playing conditions that had standing water or drainage problems. The County Club reached out to our team at WSB to find a sustainable solution to the chronic water issues that plagued the historic course.

Keeping greens, green
Golf courses use a lot of water and droughts or excess water negatively impact course profitability and sustainability. Like many Minnesota courses, Rochester Golf & Country Club uses groundwater for irrigation. However, the playability issues caused by the Decorah Shale are unique. Research and studies have criticized golf courses over the years for chemical and water use, particularly groundwater. Recently, many courses have taken strides to become more environmentally sensitive and eco-friendly. Rochester Golf & Country Club approached their golf course renovation project with sustainability in mind and decided to reuse the seepage water and surface water as a partial replacement for the groundwater they used for irrigation. This process allowed them to improve their environmental footprint.

Creating a solution out of the problem
WSB performed a rigorous rainfall and runoff analysis to determine the amount of available seepage and runoff water. The analysis included long-duration simulations of water yield and irrigation using state-of-the-art hydraulic modeling software. Every water reuse project is unique. Most of the land that Rochester Golf & Country Club sits on drains in a single direction, making it easier to capture seepage and runoff water. This efficiency of drainage created a single point of collection into a new irrigation pond.

After completing the reuse analysis, we worked with the Country Club and an irrigation design consultant to design the irrigation pond, pump station and pump house, the collection system to deliver water to the irrigation pond, and the outlet works from the pond to the public system. Drainage tile was placed under the fairway turf to allow water to feed into the irrigation pond. In the past, the Country Club used over 10 million gallons of groundwater for irrigation, annually. With the new water reuse and drainage system, the course’s groundwater usage dropped to 4 million gallons. The water reuse system can pump as much as 1,500 gallons per minute into the irrigation system. The reuse system also alleviates the need to tap into the city’s water supply and ensures that the course can stay watered even when conservation restrictions are in place.

Full-circle sustainability
The Rochester Golf & Country Club is dedicated to sustainability beyond water reuse and has established an on-site, 10,000-square-foot garden that supplies fresh produce to their executive chef. Additionally, the club is home to 400,000 honey bees, an effort to protect the honey bees’ declining population. Throughout the Country Club’s recent restoration, they have paid close attention to reusing available resources including creating benches out of downed trees and repurposing old cart path rock for new cart path base layers.

A fresh start in 2019
The course has been under construction since 2016 and reopened this spring. Under the direction of renowned golf course architect Tom Doak, the acclaimed 18-hole golf course went through a substantial renovation to restore the course to its original 1925 A.W. Tillinghast design.

Golf is a significant economic driver in Minnesota and water plays a vital role in keeping these courses busy throughout the golf season. In addition to our work on the Rochester Golf and Country Club, WSB has developed water reuse systems and measures for Oneka Ridge Golf Course in Hugo and Eagle Valley Golf Course in Woodbury.


Bob is a Principal at WSB with over 20-years of experience providing technical and management support to public and private clients. Bob’s special expertise in water resources management, infrastructure planning, project development, and land development make him an effective and trusted adviser on a variety of projects. 

Q&A with Bill Tointon – Celebrating 50 Years

Bill Tointon is a Senior Planner at WSB focusing on our Land Development efforts in Rochester.

Throughout his career, Bill has been involved in the design of approximately 25,000 acres of land for residential, commercial, industrial and redevelopment projects. He has served the Rochester community with their land development needs for 50 years.

Q: Congratulations on 50 years! When you reflect on your career to date, what stands out as the most memorable or impactful moment?
A: I would say the most significant part of my career is that I was able to maintain a 96 percent ratio of success in obtaining project approvals from governmental political bodies including city councils, county boards, planning commissions, environmental boards, and township boards.
It’s difficult for me to highlight one specific memorable project since they have all impacted me in different ways. If I had to choose I would say working on the Mayo Woodland project definitely stands out. It took three years to approve special zoning to complete the project. Once approved, it was featured in the New York Times and on the Paul Harvey News. The media called it an innovative project in America’s heartland and it involved the heirs of the world-famous Mayo family, often called America’s physicians.

Q: Is there something you wish you would’ve known when you first started that you learned during your career?
A: It takes a significant level of effort to be successful in the practice of private development – more than I had expected. It’s important to be optimistic, place emphasis on accuracy, and also be very articulate. I often say to colleagues, “Being 90 percent accurate is not a passing grade in the private development industry.”

Q: How have you seen the industry change over the last 50 years?
A: I would say the largest change that I’ve noticed is the continual decrease in the number of private development firms and individuals that are willing to take on the risks associated with this industry. Throughout the last five decades, I’ve experienced all stages of the economic cycle. The companies that have survived these cyclical changes have good investors or have been very fiscally responsible.

Q: How have you changed over the last 50 years?
A: Over the years I’ve realized how important relationship building is. When you’re working with clients, you’re not just doing a “job.” Elements of our business can be incredibly personal. I’ve been lucky to build longstanding relationships with clients and colleagues throughout the years. I didn’t realize how important this was when I first started out.

Q: In what direction do you see this industry heading?
A: The private development industry players are constantly changing. Unfortunately, the clients you have today may not be in business five or ten years in the future. The level of sophistication in the industry is increasing along with the acceptance and understanding that modern technology is the new normal. Lately, I’ve noticed a shift into private developers focusing on more niche markets. I think the future looks bright for private development. I’ve witnessed many changes throughout the years – some bad, but most good.

Q: How has the Rochester community impacted your professional career?
A: The diversity of the Rochester community has allowed me to broaden my career and be more innovative when applying new design criteria. What’s unique about the community is how involved and hands-on the governmental bodies are here. They often participate in design critiques and really embrace new ideas and creativity.

Q: You’ve worked on several projects in Rochester throughout your career. What has surprised you about the changing landscape?
A: The city has surprised me. It’s changed so much. Rochester went from a small size community in the heartland of the Midwest to a metropolitan city center with high-rises and a booming downtown. The economic momentum here is motivating. It’s been impressive to witness.

Q: What advice would you give someone who is new to our industry?
A: The best advice I can give someone entering this industry is to be persistent in your approach to problem solving and don’t take no for an answer. Create your own style and embrace it. I would also tell them that teamwork is necessary and not an option. Surround yourself with people you trust and that you can depend on. It will make your career enjoyable and give you tremendous support.

Hyatt House-Civic on First Groundbreaking

Community leaders and local residents gathered in downtown Rochester yesterday to break ground on the Hyatt House-Civic on First project. Referred to as the “new gateway to the city”, the $46 million project features a 172-room extended stay hotel.

Formerly the home of the beloved community watering hole, American Legion Post 92, the Hyatt House has a large footprint to fill. The over 30-year-old downtown establishment bid a bittersweet farewell to Civic Center Drive and its loyal patrons, but remained optimistic for future development efforts. The Hyatt House hotel is expected to connect the Rochester community and Mayo Clinic campus and spur economic development growth in the area.

Our Land Development team assisted EKN Development Group, PEG Companies, and HKS as the Planning and Entitlements Lead. We completed the planning and entitlement process, civil engineering, geotechnical, survey, and landscape architecture work. Completion for the Hyatt House project is anticipated for summer 2020.