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MaryAnn Friederich of Collegeville Artisan Bakery in St. Joseph sorts her wares June 4 at her booth in downtown Willmar during the first Becker Market of the season. A consulting team of Minneapolis-based architects is studying concepts to create a downtown market space on Becker Avenue. One of the architects, Anna Claussen, touts the success Becker Market has had in the area during its four-year existence.  Tribune photo by Ron Adams

Becker Avenue planners get a taste of downtown activities

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WILLMAR -- Anna Claussen of Minneapolis grew up in the Benson-Montevideo area and found herself at least once a week in Willmar hanging around Becker Avenue and Rice Memorial Hospital where her mother works.

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She never envisioned a downtown market space or pedestrian plaza on Becker Avenue. But now Claussen, a landscape architect, is designing a project to do just that.

"I didn't envision it then. But after I grew up a bit, I can envision this happening and I think it's wonderful,'' says Claussen, a member of a consulting team gathering input for the Willmar Design Center's Becker Avenue "complete street'' project.

Claussen is working with landscape architect Ana Nelson of Minneapolis, a native of Mexico, who favors blending public spaces with ethnic diversity.

"It's pretty exciting not only to see the resources with the different stakeholders, but also how the community's evolving with different communities, seeing the Hispanics and Somalis, and I'm looking forward to being involved in a project where all these different cultures come together, and creating a project that is exciting for the community,'' she said.

They and Bruce Chamberlain, vice president of Hoisington Koegler Group Inc. of Minneapolis, were in Willmar to gather comments Thursday as they begin designing a proposed public gathering space on Becker Avenue from First Street to Sixth Street.

They learned how the interests of Rice Hospital and Bethel Lutheran Church relate to Becker Avenue. They walked among food and craft vendors at the weekly Becker Market, and they attended the Design Center's Willmar Blend dinner and concert that raised funds for the project.

"It was a great opportunity for us to really delve into the project and really experience the way people envision using Becker Avenue,'' says Chamberlain, who bought a jar of pickles at the market. "In the case of Bethel Church, I didn't know this until today they have services on the street, so thinking about that and how we can incorporate that into our design thinking is really important.''

Over the next month and a half, the consultants will look at concepts that would narrow the street, potentially eliminate street parking, expand the sidewalk area, devise a more formalized street closure concept than using orange cones, and come up with construction estimates.

"One of the things we're doing, too, is looking at other markets to understand how other people are managing their markets within a street environment so we can bring that kind of knowledge to Willmar and apply it to Becker Avenue,'' Chamberlain said.

He said Hoisington has worked for Hastings and is helping Minneapolis re-envision how the farmers market can better integrate into the community. Also, the consultants are looking at art and farm markets in Charles City, Iowa, and Traverse City, Mich.

He said markets have great public acceptance.

"I think in almost every community it's just a source of energy and activities, and communities really love them,'' he said.

Becker Market, now in its fourth year, "is a great start and the fact that you have this many vendors, and just the fact that you close the street to have the market is pretty cool,'' he said.

"Closing streets is not as common as you would think. What's more common is to have a dedicated space for a market: either a plaza space or a park or something like that,'' he said.

Chamberlain said a national movement is under way called "complete streets,'' in which a street serves different functions, not just traffic, but pedestrian activity, bikes, markets and other kinds of movement.

"You go to Europe and it's everywhere,'' he said. "They bring a different culture to cityscapes than we have here. It's just a more activated space than most of our streets are. So as our culture matures, I think we tend to move more toward that kind of public-activated space, and that's what you're doing here.''

Chamberlain said downtowns offer citizens a more humane environment that's not as available on the sprawling commercial outskirts.

"There is an ability to function as a pedestrian where you just don't have that chance on the edges,'' he said. "And I think people want more of an experience with their daily lives than they might get with a shopping mall at the fringe of a community.''

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David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150
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