Willmar City Council approves the Becker Ave. market proposal

WILLMAR -- The Willmar City Council Monday night voted to close part of Becker Avenue Southwest one afternoon per week this summer for the proposed Downtown Becker Market.

WILLMAR -- The Willmar City Council Monday night voted to close part of Becker Avenue Southwest one afternoon per week this summer for the proposed Downtown Becker Market.

The market was proposed by Bethel Lutheran Church's Downtown Ministry Committee and the Willmar Design Center to offer a place to buy locally-grown and produced food and craft items. Proponents see the market as a way to bring people downtown.

The proposal was discussed and recommended by the council's Public Works/Safety Committee. Chairman Doug Reese said the committee recommended the market be tried for one season and be brought to the council for discussion.

Proponents asked to have Becker Avenue closed between Fourth Street and Fifth Street from 3 to 7 p.m. every Thursday from June 1 to Sept. 28. Sixteen street spaces will be provided for vendors to sell from their vehicles, and nine tables would be set up on the sidewalk.

City staff brought forward safety concerns. Both Fire Chief Marv Calvin and Police Chief James Kulset expressed concerns with traffic and providing accessibility for emergency vehicles and personnel. Reese said he shared those concerns.


Staff suggested moving the market to Saturdays, but proponents said they agreed not to compete with the farmers market held on Saturdays on Willmar's east side. Proponents also rejected a suggestion to hold the market in the city parking lot just south of Bethel Church because they did not want to take parking away from the public.

City Attorney Richard Ronning said the city risks being named a defendant in a lawsuit if an incident involving public safety occurred because the street was blocked. He said the city runs the risk with other events involving street closures.

Bethel, which fronts Becker Avenue, will provide shelter in the event of inclement weather, will offer its restrooms for public use and will provide its dumpster for cleanup, said Bethel's pastor, the Rev. Sandy Hanawalt.

Kulset said he favored a discussion on the issue of street closures. But he said the police department will work to ensure the public's safety.

"I believe every time you close a street you enhance the possibility of a public safety incident,'' he said. "It has to do with accessibility and/or with somebody coming through a barricade and a confused or impaired driver who hits somebody who's doing business in the middle of the street or on curb of a public street.''

Council member Cindy Swenson said the idea is fresh to Willmar from another community.

"It's not costing a huge amount of money, just the safety precaution expenses,'' she said. "Sometimes I think we can be so overly cautious that we might miss an opportunity. I'd like to see us try it.''

Council member Steve Gardner said he shared the public safety concerns. He wondered if the market could be moved off-street to provide expanded hours as initially proposed.


"It's not that I don't share some of the excitement of bringing people downtown,'' he said.

Council member Denis Anderson said he did not want to jeopardize public safety, but he said it appears market organizers have tried to accommodate those concerns.

"I would really like to see us try this for a year and see if it works,'' he said. "If there are problems, we don't do it again.''

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