Council committee backs proposal for downtown market

WILLMAR -- A farmers and artisans market could be held once a week on a block-long portion of Becker Avenue in downtown Willmar under a proposal being sent to the City Council next week.

WILLMAR -- A farmers and artisans market could be held once a week on a block-long portion of Becker Avenue in downtown Willmar under a proposal being sent to the City Council next week.

The council's Public Works/Safety Committee gave preliminary approval Tuesday night to the proposal by the Willmar Design Center to block off Becker Avenue Southwest between Fourth and Fifth Streets for the proposed Downtown Willmar Becker Market.

The committee's recommendation will be considered by the council on Monday night. The vote to recommend was taken after Fire Chief Marv Calvin and Police Chief James Kulset voiced safety concerns and issues related to the closing of a public street.

Market supporters hope the event will bring people downtown. They say it will not compete with the farmers market held every Saturday morning during the summer at the Westside Liquor Store parking lot.

The downtown market would be open from 3 to 7 p.m. every Thursday between June 1 and Sept. 28, and would be a market for farmers, growers, producers and artisans to sell their own products directly to the public.


Beverly Dougherty, Willmar Design Center project coordinator, said she hoped the Design Center has addressed the safety issues raised by the two chiefs. She said a 20-foot-wide corridor down the middle of the street was recommended to provide space for fire trucks.

Dougherty and a handful of Design Center board members and staff presented copies of written applications, guidelines and specifications prepared to license and manage the market.

During discussion, Calvin said the proposed 20-foot corridor did not satisfy his concerns. He was also concerned about the length of time the market would be in operation compared with the hour-long musical concerts held once a week at the same spot on Becker Avenue during June and July last summer.

"We hope nothing happens,'' he said. Moving chairs away in the event of an emergency would be easier than moving booths, he said.

Kulset said the request begged the question of a broader discussion of the use of streets. He said the number of requests for using streets has increased.

"What is the policy going to be for closing streets?'' he asked. "We will deal with whatever the City Council wants us to do. Streets are designed for moving traffic, not vendors or sidewalk sales.''

Committee Chairman Doug Reese said he supports the idea, but said he was concerned about blocking the street and was concerned about safety issues. He wondered if the parking lot at the corner of Fifth Street and Becker Avenue (next to the Masonic building) could be used.

Dougherty said the Design Center did not want to pay for portable toilets to be set up at the parking lot. Also, she said Bethel Lutheran Church has agreed to make its restrooms available for the public.


Dougherty said the forefront of urban design is to use streets for multiple purposes. She said construction of a community gathering center would not be needed if streets could be used as a gathering place.

"I have a hard time overlooking the safety concerns of the chiefs,'' said Reese.

City Administrator Michael Schmit said the issue before the committee was a policy question. "If you do this, we have to address the safety issues as best we can to minimize risk,'' he said.

Committee member Cindy Swenson made the motion to approve the request. "We should try it and have contingency plans in place,'' she said. Committee member Bruce DeBlieck seconded the motion to "give it a try, see how it works.''

Committee member Ron Christianson said there was a lot of support for the proposal, but acknowledged the safety concerns. He suggested passing the proposal on to the council for more discussion.

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