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State group could assist in downtown revitalization

A downtown Willmar marker is pictured Tuesday near the Cafe Persepolis parking lot on Litchfield Avenue Southwest. The Willmar Design Center is asking the City Council to support a partnership agreement that assists cities in revitalizing their historic downtown business districts. Tribune photo by Dan?Burdett

WILLMAR -- The Willmar Design Center is seeking City Council support for a partnership between the Design Center and a statewide organization that assists cities in revitalizing their historic business districts.

The Design Center is asking the council to support a partnership agreement between the center and the Minnesota Main Street Program. Minnesota Main Street is a program under the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota, a nonprofit group advocating for preservation of Minnesota's historic resources.

The council's Finance Committee on Monday voted to support the partnership between the Design Center and Minnesota Main Street. The committee's recommendation will be considered by the council next week.

The committee voted to support the partnership, but requested City Attorney Rich Ronning review the agreement.

Also, the committee wants Ronning to develop an agreement between the city and the Design Center which would acknowledge that the Design Center is responsible for all costs associated with membership in Main Street Minnesota and that the city would discontinue its relationship with the state group if Design Center funding is not adequate.

Ronning's review will address committee members' concerns about the city's obligation to the state group as written in the agreement if funds are inadequate to continue membership.

Design Center Project Coordinator Beverly Dougherty said the agreement must be renewed annually. City Administrator Michael Schmit said there is severance language that lets the city out of the agreement. If in 2012 the council decides there is no money, there is an escape clause in the agreement, he said.

The agreement requires signatures from the city, which Dougherty said makes sense because the city provides funding for the Design Center's operating budget. The city, which has funded the center since it began in 2006, provided $48,000 in 2010.

Dougherty asked for council support even though the Design Center had already paid membership dues for the balance of 2010. The dues were paid from a $2,500 grant the Design Center received from the state Legacy Funds, she told the committee.

Dougherty apologized for the timing of the request. But she explained that Minnesota Main Street met with the Design Center's board and urged the center to join the group. Membership allowed Dougherty to attend a two-day Main Street training workshop Aug. 25 in Red Wing. A total of 55 people from 20 cities attended.

Topics included developing businesses, understanding the market, bringing more people downtown and diversifying the funding base. Another workshop is pending.

"They felt we had done about three-quarters of what they ask their members to do,'' said Dougherty. "Their program is what we have been doing.''

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