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Grant application for $1.8M Becker Avenue redesign gets backing of Willmar City Council

WILLMAR -- Willmar City Council members approved a state grant application that includes the $1.8 million Becker Avenue redesign project, but not before debating whether the private sector should cover the 1 percent or $25,000 local share.

The council voted 7-1 Monday night to authorize the Minnesota Department of Transportation to submit an application for a federal grant to assist in the Becker Avenue project. A resolution to authorize MnDOT to submit the application was recommended by the Public Works/Safety Committee.

The Becker Avenue project is among seven proposals, including one from Cosmos, selected by MnDOT to seek funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation for transportation-related projects under the federal stimulus program.

The Becker Avenue concept, developed by the Willmar Design Center, was approved by the council earlier this spring. The project includes a convertible section for markets, a multi-use recreation trail corridor, storm water planters, curb bump-outs and improved pedestrian environment. Construction could take place in 2011 if the application is successful.

The idea of having the local share paid by the private sector was raised by council member Ron Christianson. He said the Public Works Committee was told by Beverly Dougherty of the Design Center and Bruce Peterson, city planning and development services director, that the private sector could provide funding.

"I would like some commitment on those dollars as we go into our 2011 budget discussions,'' he said. "Twenty-five-thousand dollars does not seem like a lot, but it sure could be if LGA (Local Government Aid) is cut considerably next year.''

Christianson offered an amendment to the resolution, seconded by Jim Dokken, stipulating the local share be solicited from property owners or from the private sector. Christianson said $25,000 could also be spent on other causes, including such things as railroad quiet zones and storm water problems.

Christianson said he was not against the grant but had received comments from others who felt the grant should have included more of the downtown area. But he eventually withdrew his amendment after other council members voiced opposition to it.

Denis Anderson did not want to have a restriction that might make the grant application fall apart. "It seems like an incredible opportunity if we get the grant,'' he said.

Bruce DeBlieck said the whole deal "could fall apart'' if it were tied to a private sector requirement.

"The commitment should be from the city,'' he said. "We can ask the private sector for those funds, but I think we need to make the commitment up front that if the funds are not there we'd be willing to participate in this grant.''

Steve Ahmann, who serves on the Design Center board, said it would be great to get private participation.

"But in overall benefit and the age of the street and what we get for the dollar, it's a no-brainer,'' he said. "We should be moving forward with it if we should get the funds. There's a group of people that are trying to keep the downtown alive. .... If it were not for that board working towards small projects, we would have less of a downtown area.''

Rick Fagerlie hoped the city receives the grant. If the city just did an overlay on Becker Avenue, he said, the city's cost would be well over $25,000 to pay for properties that the city could not assess "because there aren't that many store fronts on Becker.''

Voting in favor of the application were Christianson, Ahmann, Anderson, Fagerlie, DeBlieck, Doug Reese and Tim Johnson. Voting against was Dokken.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
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