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Becker Ave. concept being refined, final proposal next

Bruce Chamberlain of the Hoisington Koegler Group in Minneapolis discusses a proposed plan Wednesday for the Becker Avenue Market Block in downtown Willmar. Tribune photo by Ron Adams1 / 2
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WILLMAR -- The consultant working on a preliminary redesign concept of downtown Becker Avenue as a place for public festivals, markets, walkers and bikers believes investment by the public sector leads to investment by the private sector.

"Anecdotally through working on projects like this for a couple of decades now, my experience is that when the public demonstrates a vision -- makes an investment in a public space -- private investment tends to follow that public vision,'' said Bruce Chamberlain, vice president of Hoisington Koegler Group Inc. of Minneapolis.

Chamberlain made the comment after he presented the concept Wednesday morning to the Willmar Design Center's Downtown Commons Committee. The project is one of the Design Center's long-term goals.

The Design Center hired Hoisington to come up with a streetscape design incorporating landscaping, a public plaza and space for activities such as Becker Market.

Although details are not final and the design is still preliminary, the concept envisions a landscaped, tree-lined Becker Avenue from First Street to Sixth Street Southwest as a unified street with parking eliminated on the south side for a bike trail leading to Selvig Park and the transit station.

The design would concentrate festival and market activities between Fourth Street and Fifth Street and includes amenities such as a central park, public pavilion and playground to the west of Bethel Church; a pedestrian promenade linking the Willmar Public Library, the hospital and the church; expanded Selvig Park with a bike station and skating rink; and market courtyard with sheds for vendors and entry to a possible market hall at Center Point Mall.

The intersection at Becker Avenue and Fourth Street would receive special prominence because Fourth Street was originally conceived by the railroad, which originally platted Willmar, as the city's grand avenue.

According to Richard Engan of Engan Associates, who studies local history, the railroad placed the depot at the head of Fourth Street and platted the street 10 feet wider than other streets. The width continues all the way to Willmar Avenue.

He said main streets in many old cities in Europe lead away from the depot and are the most prominent.

In the 1920s, Litchfield Avenue became Willmar's prominent business area, Engan said.

Chamberlain's design distills ideas taken from three earlier concepts presented at an Oct. 22 open house. During the open house, community members selected the features they liked the best. Chamberlain used those ideas to come up with the draft design.

Approximately 20 community members representing downtown and economic development interests, Rice Memorial Hospital, Willmar City Council and Bethel Lutheran Church heard Chamberlain's presentation. Beverly Dougherty, Design Center project coordinator, said she saw heads nodding in support.

"The intent would be to come on board with one design concept and then be able to work toward accomplishing that design,'' she said.

Chamberlain also presented the concept Wednesday morning to the Design Center's Technical Advisory Committee, which represents Willmar Public Works, Willmar Municipal Utilities, Rice Hospital and Kandiyohi County.

Chamberlain said the committee would "take a more detailed critique'' of the concept and comment on potential conflicts with utilities or interaction with street maintenance needs "so that we're sure that we're incorporating the ideas that are important to continuing maintenance and operation of the street and getting those wrapped into the design.''

Adam Arvidson of Minneapolis, Design Center urban planner, said the draft will be further refined into a preferred concept, along with construction costs and yearly maintenance estimates, and will be presented to the public and to the City Council for approval. No funding commitment will be sought at that time, he said.

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