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Downtown flowers funded privately this year in Willmar

Deb Patzold of Designs by Deb in Willmar used her mobile watering unit Tuesday to water plants in the downtown hanging baskets. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams)

WILLMAR -- A Willmar Design Center spokesman has addressed what he says may be some misunderstanding on the part of the City Council concerning the planting and watering of the downtown flower baskets.

"I would like to state for the record that nobody was more disappointed than we were when we could not find the resources to plant and water the flowers this spring,'' Don Williamson, chairman of the Design Center's Commons/Promotions Committee, told the council last week.

"We were disappointed as well as you and we appreciate that it got your concern,'' Williamson said. "We're sorry that we were not able to pull enough resources together to do it this year.''

Flowers were returned to downtown after Mayor Frank Yanish took action prior to Willmar Fests. He used a combination of his own money and funds from the Mayor's Prayer Breakfast private account. Yanish did not say how much he spent to have flowers planted and maintained this summer.

From 2006 through 2011, the Design Center used part of its subsidy from the city to buy flowers and soil, and coordinated the planting and watering with volunteers and city workers, according to Beverly Dougherty, Design Center project coordinator. The Design Center raised $9,000 to buy the lamppost baskets, she said.

Watering through 2011 was done by fire department personnel, according to Fire Chief Marv Calvin. The department used a grass-fire rig the first year. A 1999 Ford pickup was outfitted with a water tank by the Public Works Department for watering the following years.

The Design Center dropped the flower project this year, along with the contract for a part-time landscape architect and rented conference meeting room, after the council reduced the center's 2012 subsidy by 42 percent, according to Dougherty.

In addition, the council in February voted to cut 15 vehicles, including the Public Works watering truck, from the city's fleet, saving $281,652 in vehicle costs.

In a letter to the council, Dougherty suggested that if the city also believes that downtown beautification is important, that the city again work with the Design Center to achieve that goal.

The flower issue came to the council's attention at the June 18 meeting when Ron Christianson thanked Yanish for seeing to it that flowers were put in the downtown flower pots.

Christianson said fresh flowers reminded him of life and he said he was saddened that flowers were not in all the pots. Willmar Fests was approaching and people from out of town would be here.

"And we need to look like there's life, not just on the streets but in the flower pots also, as does New London and Hutchinson, Spicer. I don't know how they fund theirs. It really makes the downtown come alive in those areas,'' he said.

For 2013, Christianson suggested downtown businesses each contribute $100 toward flowers. If that didn't happen, he suggested the council reduce the Design Center's funding by the amount it takes to plant flowers "because that's typically where the money comes from -- us -- and then have the mayor or council see to it that it gets done.''

In an interview, Yanish said he hired Deb Patzoldt of Willmar, a flower design consultant, to plant and water the downtown flowers. Yanish said he learned about her business during a visit with Patzoldt at Yanish's tire shop.

Patzoldt told the Tribune she planted and is watering 15 baskets.

Yanish said he paid Patzoldt with a combination of his own money and with funds from the Mayor's Prayer Breakfast account. Yanish said the Prayer Breakfast fund is a private account that can be used at the mayor's discretion and he wanted to do something that benefits the whole city.

Yanish said visitors from Minneapolis were coming for Willmar Fests "and I just wanted to have the downtown looking nice.''

Williamson thanked Yanish and the council for their vision and work with the Design Center to beautify and promote downtown. "Your leadership is essential,'' he said.

Council member Denis Anderson thanked the Design Center for its efforts.

"It's a great organization and I'm glad to hear you are working on possible alternatives for next year. Thanks for everything you've done for the city,'' he said.

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