WILLMAR — When the steering committee that was established this year to create the final plans for the proposed streetscape project in downtown Willmar was deciding which intersection to update, it wanted to find a space that represented as much of downtown's character as possible. They, with help from public input, landed on Fourth Street and Litchfield Avenue Southwest, the intersection surrounded by retail, culture, food, coffee and art.
"If you were to choose one intersection that defines the core of downtown, what would it be?" said Willard Huyck, Willmar Main Street coordinator. "That was predominantly Fourth and Litchfield."
With a location chosen, the steering committee, along with Bolton & Menk engineers, turned its attention to the design of the upgrades. At a public open house last week, two options were unveiled. Each one has landscaping, seating, bike racks and lighting. They both also have pedestrian bump-outs. Also known as curb extensions, bump-outs extend the curb farther into the street, providing pedestrians with a safer crossing, while also offering additional space for streetscape improvements such as benches and flower boxes.
Design concept one has a much more geometric style and includes strings of lights running over the streets. Concept two is more fluid and artistic with curved benches and patterned concrete.
"There are differences in style and nature but not substance," Huyck said of the two designs.
At the open house, members of the public were asked to give their opinions on what they liked and didn't like about each concept. Staff from Bolton & Menk, the project manager, will use that feedback to create a final design, which it is hoped will be presented to the Willmar City Council in November.
The city is funding the project with $400,000 from a Small Cities Development grant, awarded in 2019. The project has to be completed by Sept. 30, 2022.
"It is a project we are really excited about and, from what we heard, a project the community is excited about," Huyck said.
As part of the Small Cities grant, the city and Willmar Municipal Utilities have committed to upgrading the streetlights in downtown. Four of the new LED lights are already installed in front of the Barn Theatre on Fourth Street.
"They look really nice," Huyck said.
For several years the city has been working on re-energizing downtown. Recently programs such as Willmar Main Street, Artists on Main Street and the Willmar Renaissance Zone have started to make real changes to the area. The streetscape and lighting improvements are only two parts of the greater vision for downtown.
"The city has this much broader priority in investing in downtown streetscape," Huyck said. "This is being treated as a catalyst project."
Already the search is on for other grant opportunities to do even more improvements. In the end, downtown Willmar will once again be a gathering place.
"We want to start off with a bang," Huyck said. "We are in here to invest in downtown streetscape and we are going to keep going until we have done all of downtown."