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Downtown efforts kicking off in New Richmond

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Mayor Fred Horne and City Administrator Mike Darrow will be sharing coffee and trash detail every Thursday morning this summer.

As part of the implementation stage of the Small Area Plan for the downtown district, the two city officials have committed to trash collection detail at 6:45 a.m. on Thursdays.

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"To keep the city beautiful," Darrow explained at Monday's regular New Richmond City Council meeting.

Starting June 6, the pair will gather at Jet's Coffee Bistro and then walk the downtown area gathering up garbage that's accumulated. Darrow said any local residents are welcome to join in.

The effort is just a small part of the city's overall downtown plan, which was finalized and revealed at Monday's meeting. City employees have been working on the plan since last July, gathering public input and creating long-range goals for creating a "vibrant city center," according to Dan Koski, city public works director.

Included among the recommendations in the plan are three basic goals: creating a sense of place, installing new downtown design elements and deciding what to do with the city-owned WeTEC building.

The future of the WeTEC facility has already been decided. It will be sold to Wisconsin Lighting, which hopes to grow and bring more jobs to the community.

In terms of enhancing the downtown atmosphere, Community and Economic Development Director Beth Thompson said, residents and city employees are anxious to utilize Glover Park next to the library for more music, movie, a farmers' market and other events.

Another possible enhancement could be the temporary installation of "parklets," she reported. The idea is to use large planters in a couple parking spaces along Knowles Avenue to provide space for eating establishments to offer outdoor dining options for patrons.

In the area of improved downtown design elements, Thompson said the plan includes efforts to improve signage in the downtown district, replace trees and better direct pedestrians and bicyclists. She said the city will also look at safety concerns along Knowles, including efforts to calm traffic in the district by using "bumpouts" and providing more light in alleys and along side streets.

The plan includes a suggestion that a possible Business Improvement District be established to help pay for anticipated improvements. The BID would likely collect fees from businesses that would benefit from the downtown enhancements.

Thompson said the city attempted to establish a BID program several years ago, but there was not enough support at the time. She said the city is hopeful that the time is right now.

Thompson said the implementation phase for the plan, which was unanimously approved by the council on Monday, begins this year with inexpensive or no-cost efforts.

In 2014, Thompson said, city employees hope to begin budgeting for the cost of other aspects of the plan. Efforts will also be made to raise funds for some of the expected projects, she said.

She pledged that the plan will move forward, and not sit on a shelf.

"We spent a lot of time and energy to put this together," she said. "So something will actually happen."

Council member Craig Kittel had nothing but praise for the final results of the Small Area Study.

"The plan is phenomenal," he said. "It's Class A. It's really detailed ... it's informative."

In other business:

-- Library Director Scott Vrieze reminded the council that a session is being planned for 5 p.m. May 21 to gather input regarding the design of the community's new library facility. The informal meeting will be held at Friday Memorial Library. A second public input session will be held at the Community Commons later in the summer.

For the complete story, see this week's New Richmond News.

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