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Editorial: Kudos on review of downtown vision plan

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opinion Willmar, 56201
West Central Tribune
(320) 235-6769 customer support
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

The city of Willmar and the Willmar Design Center are working this week to review downtown Willmar's assets, listen to citizen input and update the downtown's Visioneer plan.

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The plan was first developed in 1995 by Design Center effort with citizen input and then adopted by the City Council in 1996. The document adopted a series of downtown goals within a unified plan.

The time has come to update the downtown master plan and for the Design Center and the city to work together better. We commend Mayor Frank Yanish's efforts to bring the Design Center and city officials together to update the downtown's Visionary plan.

Willmar needs to build upon our city's downtown and its strengths and market our downtown and community to the rest of region and Minnesota.

Downtown Willmar has many great assets including Rice Hospital, diversity, Barn Theatre, historic buildings, professional buildings, shopping and being the community center.

The downtown also has some challenges, including vacant buildings, difficult access, and cleanliness and upgrade needs.

The biggest downtown challenge remains uninformed and/or negative perceptions within the region and a fondness for Willmar's downtown of a half century or more ago.

Unfortunately, some individuals all too often fear the unknown, the unfamiliar or just believe gossip or untrue stories about downtown Willmar, the big bad city that some in the region seem to fear.

Mayor Yanish recently said he thinks "the myths of downtown need to be dismissed." That is not the right attitude. The perceptions -- whether false or not -- need to be addressed.

Willmar must fight the common myths and/or perceptions about downtown Willmar, such a high crime rate, unsafe sidewalks or pest-infested buildings, with education and marketing.

Also we must all realize that the downtown Willmar of 50 or 75 years ago is never coming back. There is no major retail business located along First Street or 19th Avenue today that is going to move back downtown.

Historical retail trends and customer habits changed and many businesses had to change in order to survive. Thus, downtown Willmar changed and evolved over the recent decades.

We must all work together to build upon the downtown's strengths, identify changes or improvements needed, and work toward a common set of community goals that are achievable.

Thank you to Yanish, Design Center, downtown stakeholders and city citizens for participating in this week's public meeting to help update the downtown's Visioneer plan.

We look forward to seeing the resulting downtown plan update in early 2012.

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