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Litchfield group seeks state Main Street designation

History lover Robyn Richardson, left, and business owner Susan Johnson are members of a core group working to preserve and rehabilitate some of the deteriorating buildings in downtown Litchfield. A workshop is set this afternoon to learn how to have Litchfield designated a Minnesota Main Street and seek technical assistance in rehab projects.

LITCHFIELD — They selected a name. Now they’ll formulate a plan.

Litchfield Downtown Restoration Commission was the name selected from 45 entries in a contest Thursday night to name the citizens group working to restore and rejuvenate downtown buildings.

The next step will be working to designate Litchfield as a Minnesota Main Street. To achieve that end, the Litchfield Downtown Restoration Commission and interested citizens will meet from 1 to 4 p.m. today in the Crossroads Room at Zion Lutheran Church with Emily Northey, Minnesota Main Street program coordinator.

Northey will discuss the Minnesota Main Street program and instruct attendees on filling out an application to receive the Main Street designation. Minnesota Main Street is a program of the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota.

“It looks like they have enough support to be successful,’’ Northey said in an interview.

If Litchfield is accepted, the city will receive technical assistance worth at least $6,400 a year, which could be used to hire third-party consultants to work on needs or projects; develop and implement a fundraising plan; or develop a market analysis.

“It’s really important in Main Street programs the first few years that they be able to show very visible, tangible results, and fixing up buildings is a perfect way to do that,’’ said Northey.

She said it may involve hiring an architect to work with building owners and create a design that matches local historic preservation guidelines.

“It makes it easier for them and also better guarantees for the community that the rehabilitation will be a nice-looking building afterward with quality materials and possibly even lower maintenance issues,’’ said Northey.

“We don’t provide construction dollars,’’ she continued. It’s up to the local group to find the funding, but she’ll offer suggestions as to where money might be available. Paint company Valspar offers paint grants and the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development has Small Cities grants for rehabilitation work.

Downtown business owner Susan Johnson knows many efforts have been tried.

“But I think finally the ball’s rolling and this time there is going to be action,’’ says Johnson, thanks to local history-lover Robyn Richardson who organized a core group of business people and citizens interested in improving downtown.

“Robyn has put a lot of work into it and I think things are taking off and it would be really fun to see things rejuvenated downtown, maybe have these old buildings get a bit of a facelift. I think that’s very exciting. And I love all of her effort that she is putting into it,’’ said Johnson.

Richardson is undeterred in her attempt to stem the deterioration of some of the buildings.

“I said I just don’t take no for an answer and I know there is a way to do this,’’ Richardson said in an interview. “We’ll form a nonprofit organization no matter what happens. People are already sending me money for organizational and legal expenses.’’

Richardson publicized and organized a town hall meeting in October and a good turnout of 56 people attended. One of those attending was Willmar Design Center project coordinator Beverly Dougherty, who is offering organizational suggestions.

Richardson learned about Dougherty after doing a Goggle search for Minnesota Main Street. Due to Design Center efforts, Willmar was designated a Minnesota Main Street.

“She’s been really helpful because I told her I don’t want us to miss anything that we might not think of,’’ said Richardson.

At the end of the meeting, about 75 percent of attendees indicated they would volunteer and an 11-member core group has been formed.

Richardson thinks there are a lot of things that can be done to dress up buildings that aren’t going to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“But it just takes a group of committed people,’’ she said. “We’re going to need a lot of volunteers. We’ll need a lot of help. I think a lot of people are going to step up. They already are.’’

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