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Bev Dougherty talks about proposed changes to Becker Ave. in downtown Willmar. Tribune photo by Bill Zimmer

Design Center works on Becker Avenue plaza concept

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local Willmar, 56201
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

WILLMAR -- Downtown Becker Avenue would become a tree-lined street and multi-use market plaza with a recreation path for walkers and bikers if a preliminary concept envisioned by the Willmar Design Center becomes reality.

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Becker Avenue, from First Street to Fourth Street, would be narrowed while maintaining lanes for two-way traffic and parking on both sides. The additional space would be designated for the recreational path linking Glacial Lakes State Trail and ending at Selvig Park.

Selvig Park would receive new plantings next year.

From Fourth Street to Sixth Street, Becker Avenue would shift slightly north and allow two lanes of traffic but no parking. A large plaza space would be created on the south side that would be used for events such as Becker Market, Holidaze and Celebrate Art! Celebrate Coffee!

This portion of the street would be considered "convertible,'' meaning it could allow vehicular traffic but could easily be shut down in its entirety for community events.

The design would include a rain garden concept that would allow rainwater to soak into the ground where trees are planted, reducing storm water runoff.

The concept of creating a downtown commons including Becker Avenue grew from extensive public involvement with the Minnesota Design Team visit in early 2005 and became part of the Willmar Design Center's comprehensive Vi-sioneer for downtown improvement.

The public had a chance to comment on the Becker Avenue concept at a Design Center meeting in February. Many of the building owners who attended the meeting supported the market street concept, says Beverly Dougherty, Design Center project coordinator.

Design Center representatives then met with city staff to refine some of the ideas. The concept was explained to the Willmar City Council this past August, and was reported to the council's Finance Committee in October and Community Development Committee in November.

Although the council hasn't yet given its formal approval to the concept, the consensus of committee and council members is to continue with the design process. The process is in the early stage and there'll be plenty of time for public comment and city staff and council buy-in, says Dougherty.

"And I think when you build that kind of support, and then go to the city committee who urge us to keep going, it's an effort by a lot of people that are in favor,'' she said. "It's not just the Design Center saying this is what we want to do and that's what makes it work.''

She says the first order of business in 2009 is to have Adam Arvidson of Minneapolis, the Design Center's urban planner, work with the city in writing a request for proposals from landscape architects and select a firm to design Becker Avenue as a market street. The Design Center will fund the architect.

According to a possible project timetable laid out by Arvidson, the schematic design and cost estimates would be completed in August 2009.

"We've committed to step one. The Design Center will be paying Adam to help write the (request for proposal) and then we'll need to fund the schematic design because that's how you get the cost estimates. Step one is figuring out how much it will cost,'' said Dougherty.

The second step will be procuring money from various sources such as city funding, private grants, appropriations or bonds, either in phases or as one project. The funding process would likely take place from August 2009 to July 2010.

The third step will be preparing detailed plans and construction. If everything falls into place as hoped, construction could begin in April or May 2011 and be completed in October 2011.

Arvidson sees the market street concept in terms of community and economic development. He says the concept will provide a positive venue for the summertime Becker Market and allow the market to expand its connection with area producers with consumers.

He says a positive streetscape environment in front of commercial businesses and residential facilities increases the value and desirability of those facilities for tenants of various types.

Also, the presence of a major recreational trail has been proven to boost the local use of a downtown area, he says.

"The ultimate goal -- to bring the Glacial Lakes Trail all the way into downtown -- would be accommodated by this design and would have an economic benefit on the downtown area,'' he said.

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