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City Council panel OKs grant application for Becker project

Willmar's Becker Avenue project is one of seven projects in the state that will be part of an application seeking federal grant funds. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams )

WILLMAR -- Willmar's proposed Becker Avenue redesign project is one of seven projects in Minnesota that will be seeking federal grants under a Minnesota Department of Transportation "livability and sustainability initiative.''

If approved, the grant would cover most of the project's $1.8 million estimated cost. Project promoters say the redesign concept of bringing a recreational trail and developing a plaza for outdoor markets and other events will create an appealing entrée to the downtown district.

The projects from Willmar and six other cities, including one from Cosmos, were selected by MnDOT from among 27 proposals submitted for the initiative.

MnDOT will submit the application to the U.S. Department of Transportation for funding under the federal stimulus program.

Adam Arvidson of Minneapolis, urban designer for the Willmar Design Center, said the federal Transportation Department is giving grants to states, counties and cities for transportation construction projects.

What makes this application a bit unusual and the only reason Willmar is going after this grant is that MnDOT is submitting the application itself on a theme of livability, complete street and environmental sustainability transportation, said Arvidson.

"So instead of MnDOT applying for one big highway project or one big bridge project, (it put) together this joint application which will create seven much greener, environmentally sensitive and more community sensitive transportation projects,'' he said.

MnDOT's initiative emphasizes "complete street'' practices. The National Complete Streets Coalition defines a complete street as "designed and operated to enable safe access for all users. Pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, and public transportation users of all ages and abilities are able to safely move along and across a complete street.''

Willmar's participation received support from the City Council's Public Works/Safety Committee. Committee support was requested by Beverly Dougherty, project coordinator for the Willmar Design Center, which is promoting the project, and Bruce Peterson, director of city planning and development services.

Peterson and Dougherty brought the request to the committee on Tuesday because they said the deadline for the pre-application was today. The committee will recommend the council give final approval Monday night.

The City Council endorsed the Becker Avenue concept in early May. Design Center representatives said council endorsement was needed to apply for grants or other funding.

Arvidson said MnDOT will be competing with applications from around the country. Approval is not a sure thing, but MnDOT feels its chances are increased because the agency grouped the seven proposals into one initiative.

Arvidson said he learned about the funding opportunity from a MnDOT staffer at the District 8 Office in Willmar. Arvidson believes MnDOT's chances are strengthened because Willmar's application will include a consultant's detailed cost estimates and schematic designs, which were prepared for just such a funding opportunity.

"Not every community has that level of detail figured out,'' Arvidson said.

The consultant's cost estimate was reduced from $3 million to $1.8 million because development of a community green space in the parking lot behind Bethel Lutheran Church and renovations to Selvig Park are being dropped. Those items involve land acquisition, which the stimulus grant doesn't cover, according to Arvidson.

The project includes the future extension of the Glacial Lakes State Trail into downtown, development of the market plaza, storm water management, planters and street trees, all within the right of way from First to Fifth Streets Southwest.

The grant would require a local match of 1 percent or $25,000, which ever is more. Dougherty told the committee that the business community is interested in the project and would contribute toward the match.

Peterson said the grant would be a good way to leverage the local share.

"I can't think of a time where we've ever been able to leverage that kind of money,'' he said. "Even if you look at the $25,000 as the match instead of 1 percent, you're still leveraging 72 to 1 instead of a 100 to 1. That's an awful good leverage.''

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