WILLMAR -- A redesign concept for Becker Avenue would provide a calmer and greener environment for downtown, according to supporters of a streetscape improvement proposal.
The concept for a redesigned Becker Avenue from Sixth Street Southwest to First Street envisions creation of a one-block market plaza that would also function as a street, development of a central park and promenade connection, the planting of more trees and a combination walking and biking trail.
The concept was developed by the Hoisington Koegler Group of Minneapolis and presented this week to the Willmar City Council's Public Works/Safety Committee by Adam Arvidson of Minneapolis, urban planner for the Willmar Design Center.
The committee voted to endorse the proposal and to send the concept to the City Council for presentation on Monday night.
Last year, the council authorized a study of Becker Avenue redesign improvements and the city along with the Design Center raised funds to contract with Hoisington to prepare sketches and cost estimates for redesigning Becker Avenue as Willmar's downtown market street, said Arvidson.
The market street idea grew out of community improvement suggestions made during visits to Willmar by the Minnesota Design Team in 2005. The Design Center was formed as a result of the visits. The center sponsors the summer-time Becker Market and is working to implement various community improvement goals such as the Becker Avenue redesign.
Arvidson said the schematic is not a construction plan, but provides a cost estimate of $3.3 million. He said schematic-level proposals always estimate high with use of the best materials. But he said design idea changes and use of less expensive materials would affect these numbers.
"It does not mean these are numbers you will commit to at any time in the near future. It's just to give you a picture of what this all would cost,'' Arvidson said.
He said funding would be sought from a variety of sources including grants and private contributions.
"That's not to suggest if any of the project moves forward that this would all be city money. We wanted to get a sense of what is the project and what are the dollar amounts here,'' he said.
"It's a large project. It could have a significant positive impact on the city, but it comes with a price tag. These days, price tags really matter.''
The design consists of five smaller projects, each with its own cost estimate.
- The courthouse block: $219,750. Becker Avenue between Sixth Street and Fifth Street would have pavement improvements, new landscaping and lighting.
- Becker Market block from Fifth Street to Fourth Street: $1,023,500. Becker would function as a street and a plaza. Clay and concrete pavers, and overhead, old-world European lighting would give the street a sense of activity and excitement. Includes site amenities, new trees and landscaping. The Fourth and Becker intersection would be upgraded with new pavement design and curb bump-outs.
- Becker from Fourth Street to First Street: about $810,000. This section would be moderately changed. Many north side curbs would be unchanged. On the south side, curbs would bump out to create a 12-foot-wide combination trail and walkway from First to Selvig Park. The "grand vision'' would connect the trail to the Glacial Lakes State Trail or extend the Glacial Lakes Trail into downtown Willmar, with a new trail head at Selvig Park.
- Central park and promenade: about $800,000. The park would be located in the northeast corner of the Bethel Church block. A promenade behind the church in space now dedicated for parking would connect the Rice Hospital side of the block and the library side. The remainder of the block could be considered for a parking ramp.
- Extend Selvig Park to the adjacent underused parking lot: $472,500. "The dream,'' said Arvidson, would be to reconstruct the parking lot for vehicle use and for special events such as festivals, Becker Market or winter-time skating.
Committee Chairman Doug Reese asked where the money would be found. Reese said he was having a difficult time supporting the concept. He asked why Becker was chosen over Litchfield Avenue and said he saw more business opportunities along Litchfield Avenue.
Arvidson said he didn't know how the money would be raised. However, Beverly Dougherty, Design Center project coordinator, said she was looking at various funding sources. But she said grantors first need to "know the numbers'' and the design.
"We felt and the City Council felt it was important to go through this exercise and see what could be done on that street functionally and what would it really cost,'' he said. "This could be bits and pieces moving forward into the future.''
Committee members Ron Christianson, Rick Fagerlie and Denis Anderson voted to support the plan.
"I like the concept,'' said Anderson. "The dollars are big, but we have to think about it. Maybe that's our next local option sales tax. I don't know if it fits the criteria, but we have to think of ways to try to fund a portion of it.''