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Bruce Chamberlain, a consultant with Hoisington Koegler Group of Minneapolis, addresses an audience Tuesday during an open house sponsored by the Willmar Design Center. The Design Center and the city of Willmar are working with Chamberlain to re-envision downtown Becker Avenue as a market and festival area. Tribune photo by Gary Miller

Becker Market plans still in test stage

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WILLMAR -- A landscape architectural firm will be using comments from citizens to refine concepts for a redesigned downtown Becker Avenue.

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The 15 people who on Tuesday attended an open house sponsored by the Willmar Design Center were asked by consultant Bruce Chamberlain of Hoisington Koegler Group Inc. of Minneapolis to indicate which ideas they liked and which ideas they disliked in a series of three possible concepts.

The Design Center and the city of Willmar are working with Chamberlain to re-envision downtown Becker Avenue as a market and festival area.

Chamberlain said the intent of the open house was to capture as much community sentiment as possible.

Citizens attending the open house placed green dots next to ideas they supported and red dots next to ideas they did not.

Written comments were also requested.

"I think what we heard a lot of is that the (Becker Avenue) Market needs to be the center point and if there's a way to incorporate more of a market district than just a street market,'' said Chamberlain, referring to the outdoor weekly market held in the summer. The market completed its fourth year this year.

One of the ideas floated by Chamberlain was converting an existing downtown building into a year-round indoor market hall. Another idea he suggested was to construct a permanent open-air market structure.

"In other words, think about the market as an open air market plus the possibility of a market hall or some kind of indoor facility for year-round use,'' Chamberlain said.

"People are really intrigued by that idea. How we could take an existing retail space and convert that into a market kind of setting in conjunction with an open air market that happens in the summer? That seemed to resonate with people,'' he said.

Chamberlain said he heard some skepticism about the extent that Becker Market can grow.

"I think that's a fair criticism also. Is it really possible to extend the current market all the way along a whole other block, like possibly up Fourth Street or another block toward (Rice Memorial) Hospital or another block to the west on Becker Avenue. That might be a stretch as far as the size of the market,'' he said.

"We're really trying to test ideas to make sure that Becker Avenue is the right spot for an open air market,'' he said.

During the next 30 days, Chamberlain and his associates will consolidate those ideas into what their interpretation is of a preferred approach and then review that with the Design Center's technical advisory committee and the downtown commons committee to get their feedback on whether the interpretation is accurate.

Then they'll work through December to refine ideas into a preferred schematic proposal and develop cost estimates.

Chamberlain said the concepts are long-term strategies for re-energizing and revitalizing the downtown.

"What we're trying our best to do is create a market concept that has multiple benefits, so it's not just serving a market. It's linking Litchfield Avenue better with Becker Avenue,'' he said. "It has, hopefully, an economic development component that re-energizes store fronts, serving multiple purposes.''

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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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