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Downtown Willmar streetscape project entering final design phase

The Willmar City Council authorized the funding for the downtown Willmar Streetscape project, along with authorizing Bolton & Menk to begin the final design of the project.

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The Willmar City Council approved the funding for the downtown Willmar Streetscape Improvement project, which will transform the intersection of Litchfield Avenue and 4th Street Southwest. Shelby Lindrud file photo/ West Central Tribune

WILLMAR — With assistance from Bolton & Menk, the city of Willmar is starting work on the final design for the downtown streetscape improvement project , which will bring a variety of upgrades to the intersection of Litchfield Avenue and Fourth Street Southwest.

"This is a great project. I am glad to see this come to fruition," said Mayor Marv Calvin at the Nov. 15 Willmar City Council meeting.

The council approved a resolution approving the use of $400,000 from a Small Cities Development Grant to fund the majority of the improvements. The council also approved a contract with Bolton & Menk to begin work on the final design for the project, including the construction documents.

The city had applied for, and was awarded, a $750,000 grant by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development in 2019 to fund the downtown project along with needed upgrades at the Lakeview Apartment complex. The grant money has to be spent by the end of September 2022.

"Specifically, we sought that money to fund bump-outs — which is a traffic feature where the curb protrudes into a parallel parking space — for sidewalk improvements and for landscaping," said Willard Huyck, Willmar City Planner, in regard to the streetscape project.

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While the Small Cities grant will pay for most of the project costs, Huyck said it is expected the city will need to find additional funds to complete the work. Anything in the project that doesn't specifically fit into the approved grant requirements — such as patterned concrete, bike racks, decorative lighting and seasonal planters — will need to be funded with other monies. A preliminary estimate for those costs is $130,000.

Maddie Dahlheimer, Bolton & Menk landscape architect, said part of the final design will be to figure out exactly what is being funded through the grant and what isn't.

"And exploring what other options are for getting those other elements installed at the same time potentially, or getting these things lined up so those future phases have a timeline on them," Dahlheimer said.

final intersection concept plan.jpg
The final intersection concept for the Downtown Willmar streetscape improvements. Bolton and Menk will now create the final design documents. Contributed / City of Willmar, Bolton & Menk

The final design will include the pedestrian bump-outs, seating, additional lighting, landscaping and opportunities to meld public art into the area. Dahlheimer said public feedback focused on the desire for a project design that would celebrate the cultural identity of downtown, improve accessibility and inclusiveness downtown and increase the chance for community gathering in those areas.

"This project provided an opportunity to explore what the vision is downtown," Dahlheimer said, and it is hoped it will act as a catalyst for additional improvements in the area.

Community members also helped focus design attention on the Litchfield and Fourth intersection. Since the grant funds are not enough to do a downtown -wide project, the decision was made to hone in on one specific intersection.

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"The intersection of Litchfield and Fourth Street was identified as the central node of downtown, where everything is spanning from," Dahlheimer said.

The council comments at the meeting were all supportive of the project.

"I love downtown and I am super excited for this project," said Councilor Vicki Davis, who used to own the Goodness Coffee Shop, located right on the impacted intersection. "I love the designs you have here."

Mayor Calvin appreciated how Bolton & Menk and city staff endeavored to gather public input on the project design, holding several conversations with different groups and having a public open house. He said it is something the city should consider for future projects.

"I want to commend you for the engagement," Calvin said.

There was a question about how the pedestrian bump-outs would impact snow removal downtown. Interim Public Works Director Gary Manzer said they're not ideal for plows but won't be a big issue.

"We think this is such a great improvement to downtown," Manzer said. "We will get the snow out of there."

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