Spotlight shines on downtown New RichmondSeveral dozen local residents and business people took time out of their busy schedules to help New Richmond plan for the future.
By: By Jeff Holmquist, New Richmond News
Several dozen local residents and business people took time out of their busy schedules to help New Richmond plan for the future.
The third and final “Community Conversation,” dedicated to developing a vision for how the city’s downtown will look in 20 or more years, was conducted at the city-owned WeTEC buiding.
The City Council, at its July meeting, directed city employees to conduct a “small area study” of the downtown district. The public input for the study was gathered by two Community Conversations (one in August and a second in November), interviews of elected officials and identified stakeholders, and online surveys.
According to Dan Koski, the study’s project manager and city engineer and street superintendent, residents and business people were asked their opinions on a wide range of topics through the study. One of the primary issues to be resolved by the study is the future of the WeTEC building.
According to Beth Thompson, economic development specialist, the city is considering three different options for the WeTEC building or site. The City Council will eventually decide the fate of the building, perhaps as early as the end of February.
Thompson said city officials are considering:
• Retaining ownership of the building and continuing its operation as an “incubator” building to help nurture small and growing businesses.
• Selling to the building to a private company.
• Promoting a mixed-use building on the site, perhaps a mix of housing and retail.
• Remodeling the building for use as a new public library.
Thompson said there are pros and cons to each potential option. If the building is sold to a private owner, the facility would go back on the tax rolls and the community would benefit from higher tax revenues. If the structure is sold, a potential con is the loss of space for emerging businesses that provide jobs in the community.
A strike against the idea of the city keeping ownership of the building is the expected high cost of maintaining and operating the WeTEC building, she noted.
The majority of the discussion related to the WeTEC building was spent debating the idea of moving the public library to the complex.
Library Director Scott Vrieze said the idea is being seriously considered, although there are numerous challenges the library would have to overcome if the facility was to move there, including limited parking and unknown renovation costs.
“The building doesn’t really scream ‘library’ when you drive up to it,” he said.
The two other sites the Library Board is considering for a new library building are at the current site and near the Community Commons building (the old middle school).
“We haven’t made any decisions about a site,” Vrieze told the crowd. He noted an architect has been hired and the firm is in the middle of an evaluation process of each potential site.
On the topic of transportation flow in the downtown district, Parks and Recreation Director Joe Kerlin told the crowd that the city is looking at several enhancements downtown, including improved crosswalks, bumpouts, landscaping, trees and signage.
One thing the city will probably not pursue is more parking in the downtown, Kerlin reported. According to the study, only about 37 percent of current parking spaces are occupied at any given time of the day.
Kerlin said there is plenty of parking available for customers and businesspeople, the city just needs to do a better job of educating the public and putting up better signs.
On the topic of land use and planning, Planning and Community Development Director Robert Barbian said the downtown district amounts to less than 1 percent of the city’s land but it is a key area that fuels the local economy and helps people form a positive perception of the community when they visit.
On the issue of economic and business, City Clerk Tanya Reigel said resident and business surveys indicated that people would like to see some improvements in the downtown, including outdoor seating, additional flower baskets and more. Some suggestions for new offerings downtown included more outdoor live music and a possible mid-week farmer’s market in Glover Park.
Koski said the final report from the study team is due by the end of this month. The team will then make recommendations to the City Council about the next steps related to downtown enhancements and redevelopment.
“One of the things we don’t want to have happen is for this report to be written and then it sits on a shelf somewhere,” Koski told the crowd.
He said the study will be turned into action steps that will be followed through in the future.
Koski noted that local residents and business people are invited to send further comments or ideas to the city. Those items will be included in the final report as well.