WILLMAR — When you think of downtown Willmar, what one word comes to mind?
That is one of the questions Willmar Main Street is asking the public to answer in an online downtown assessment survey, with the goal to create a path to follow to a more vibrant future in downtown Willmar.
"A way of thinking about working on our downtown, building that vibrancy and seeing the economic vitality we want to see in the revitalization effort," Sarah Swedburg, director of Willmar Main Street and planner for the city, said of the assessment.
Willmar rejoined the national Main Street America program back in 2018, with the stated mission to promote downtown Willmar as the foundation of the community. The past two years have focused on getting the program up and running and now it has turned to finding out what the public would like to see and experience downtown.
"The point is to have those stratagems be community driven," Swedburg said. "So, we always have that community orientated focus."
Starting last fall, Willmar Main Street, along with Rethos, or the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota, began gathering public input on downtown. First, group discussions were held with specific parties including property owners and downtown residents.
"The point of that was to have really focused conversations about downtown," Swedburg said.
With that completed, Main Street now wants to know what the general public has to say.
"Now we are at the second stage, which is the survey portion. That is a community-wide opportunity where we want really basic feedback about downtown," Swedburg said. "We want your gut reaction."
The survey can be found on the Willmar Main Street website and Facebook page. The survey is open through Feb. 5 and is available in English, Spanish, Somali and Karen.
Once the survey is closed the team at Rethos will take the feedback from the focus groups and survey responses and create a plan for Willmar Main Street that will list short- and long-term tactics, resources and opportunities to help create the downtown the public wants to see.
"Those will really be our compass on how we are going to move forward for the next three to five years at least," Swedburg said.
Rethos will also create an asset map of downtown, a digital tool Swedburg is excited to add to the Willmar Main Street website.
"It is an interactive map of everything downtown," Swedburg said. "Each business, each monument, each park, each little thing will have a point on the map."
Over the next year Willmar Main Street wants to put a focus on the opportunities available in downtown for entrepreneurs. It will also be assisting the city planning and development department with the Renaissance Zone storefront façade program.
"The Renaissance Zone is a really great way to bring some substantial program incentives to work downtown," Swedburg said. "It says we are interested in this area, we do want to support development downtown."
Supporting development and rehabilitation downtown is an important part of the mission and vision of Willmar Main Street, to raise downtown back to the center of community life year-round. Swedburg is hopeful the programs, plans and opportunities brought to downtown through Willmar Main Street will show the public just what can be possible downtown.
"For a very long time downtown wasn't a focal point of Willmar and I think there is so much activity that people are not aware of," Swedburg said. "We have a lot of really awesome entrepreneurs with businesses downtown."