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Landscape architect gets OK for final downtown gateway designs in Willmar, Minn.

Decorative fencing at the gateway intersection of Highway 12 and Seventh Street Southwest and the blue column beckon visitors to downtown Willmar. The right-turn arrow indicates plans by the Minnesota Department of Transportation to construct a right-turn lane at the intersection. (Illustration by Treeline) 1 / 3
The design concept for the First Street and Litchfield Avenue gateway to downtown Willmar suggests a blue column on city land at the northwest corner of the intersection, decorative fencing along the sidewalks and new pavement surface on Litchfield Avenue. (Illustration by Treeline) 2 / 3
The downtown Willmar gateway concept for the Third Street Southwest and Highway 12 intersection envisions the blue column and decorative fencing along Highway 12 and Third Street. (Illustration by Treeline)3 / 3

WILLMAR -- The City Council has given landscape architect Adam Arvidson of Minneapolis approval to begin final work on three gateway designs for downtown Willmar.

The gateways project, underway for about eight months, is identified in the downtown plan that the council accepted last year.

Arvidson said the basic idea was to incorporate themes associated with the region's glacial lakes and the city's railroad history into gateways at three different downtown entrances.

The entrances are First Street and Litchfield Avenue, Third Street Southwest and U.S. Highway 12, and Seventh Street Southwest and Highway 12.

The project is funded jointly by the city and by Main Street Minnesota through revenue raised by the State Land and Legacy Amendment, he said.

Arvidson presented preliminary concepts and received council backing July 1 for final design work. The concepts were based on ideas gathered during a series of public meetings and committee meetings during the past two months.

Arvidson said reaching a preliminary concept was an important step to getting the community working together and getting everyone onboard with the general idea of what the gateways might look like.

The concepts include using a mixture of pavement surface changes to mark the threshold to downtown; a vertical element such as a lighted blue column (representing water) with Willmar's name on it; and a horizontal element such as fences or railings (with a design representing tracks and switches in the railroad yard).

Other components include curb changes, reducing sign clutter and perhaps incorporating some murals on blank building walls.

He said the gateways would be designed to welcome people to downtown and stimulate interest in downtown for both residents and tourists, but also provide an identity and a vitality to continue many of the efforts that have been happening to increase downtown's vitality overall.

"By using the same vertical and horizontal elements and the same pavement and curb changes, we can create an identity that really holds true across downtown Willmar while also addressing the very particular characters of each of those different gateway locations,'' said Arvidson.

He said the gateways concepts are more of an intervention of elements into the landscape rather than a wholesale transformation of these intersections.

"But it does give a sense of context of downtown without going over the top of that,'' he said. "It gives you more of 'finding a way in' rather than a replacement of the view of downtown that you might otherwise get,'' he said.

Council reaction was positive and members' questions centered on details such as how the columns would be lighted and if mowing would be difficult around the fencing or railings. Arvidson favors lighting the columns and said other issues would be addressed during final design.

City officials have said that once final approval is given, the projects can be planned and funding sought in the city's five-year capital improvement budget.

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