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Willmar, Minn., officials will seek comments from residents on downtown gateway concepts

Traffic travels east Saturday on Litchfield Avenue Southwest in Willmar by the historic downtown Willmar sign and First Street lights. The city has determined First Street and Litchfield Avenue will be one of three gateway locations to the downtown area. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR — Willmar residents and council members will have an opportunity to comment this week on an architect’s concepts for creation of gateways to the central business district.

Adam Arvidson, a Minneapolis landscape architect, will present the concepts during the council’s Public Works/Safety Committee at 4:45 p.m. Tuesday in conference room No. 1.

The meeting is open to the public.

On Wednesday, Arvidson will present the concepts during an open house for the public from 5 to 7 p.m. in conference room 2, and the Planning Commission will receive the presentation at 7 p.m. Both meetings will be at Willmar City Offices.

“The city hired Arvidson to develop concepts for gateway components that would help identify and strengthen the entrances into our central business district,’’ said Bruce Peterson, planning and development director.

“This was an element of our downtown plan and it is one of the elements that we have decided should be a short-term element. It was something we thought we could do and have some immediate impact on our central business district.’’

He said the components can include a variety of architectural pieces such as columns, fences and railings.

“If you put a column at your gateway, it kind of signals that it’s the entrance to your downtown,’’ said Peterson.

Another component could be a combination of concrete, brick and stone in some intersections that will let people know immediately that they are now in the downtown.

Other possible components could be curb changes to narrow the entrances. Narrower access points make accessibility easier for pedestrians, “so it’s like you’re walking or driving through a door into the downtown, and also we want those to be available for pedestrian entrances as well,’’ said Peterson.

Gateways components could eliminate the need for some signage.

“We don’t need to identify where the downtown is anymore with a sign because people will know conceptually where it is just because of the presence of the gateway components,’’ he said.

Murals on buildings close to the gateways could be used to further direct people downtown and signify that people are in the downtown without needing a sign that tells them they’re downtown.

Gateways have been determined to be a very important part of the future of downtown, mainly because of people’s varying perception of where the downtown actually is.

“We’ve attempted to define the downtown geographically and we’ve made some zoning changes to that effect,’’ said Peterson. “With these physical gateway components, we would hope to strengthen the public’s perception not only of where the downtown is but what constitutes the prominent entrances to the downtown.’’

Downtown gateway locations were determined to be First Street and Litchfield Avenue, U.S. Highway 12 and Third Street Southwest, and Litchfield Avenue and Seventh Street Southwest.

The last gateway will be challenging because the city can’t take people right from the Highway 12 bypass into downtown.

“We’re going to have to do something to either direct them to Benson Avenue or direct them down Seventh Street to Becker Avenue. The preference of the plan is to direct people down Seventh Street to Becker Avenue. But in doing so, you kind of separate yourself physically from the downtown while you’re getting there,’’ said Peterson.

“So it’s a little more difficult to have a meaningful gateway component to help people do that. I don’t want to just put up an arrow that says downtown this way. That will be a challenge to work on.’’

The next step will be design and cost estimating for ideas favored most by the council, the Planning Commission and staff, and trying to plug those projects into the city’s capital improvement plan.

“I don’t think we’ll be doing them all overnight. But we definitely hope to accomplish them and continue to build on the downtown,’’ said Peterson.

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