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Downtown New Richmond plan gains support

A proposal to develop a long-range plan for New Richmond's downtown was given the go ahead by the City Council at its regular Monday meeting.

City Engineer and Street Superintendent Dan Koski, who will be the project manager, said a key component of the plan's development will be public input.

"We hope to fully engage the public," he said.

The city expects to begin gathering ideas from local residents at a kick-off event from 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 29, in Glover Park. The listening session will include a free community BBQ dinner.

Koski told the council that the public will have at least three opportunities to share their ideas and opinions. Council members, staff members and economic development leaders will also get a chance to weigh in on the plan.

Local residents will also have the opportunity to participate in various surveys that will be used to gather more input, Koski noted.

The proposed plan will address the future direction of the city's downtown district, bordered by First and Fourth Street on the north and south, and Minnesota Avenue and the main alley on the west and east.

Dubbed a "small area study," the document was first suggested as a way to determine the future use of the city-owned WeTEC building. Council members said they felt more comfortable deciding the building's future if a more comprehensive downtown plan was developed first.

Koski said the eventual document should be ready for approval by December. The hopes is that such topics as downtown landscaping, parking, building design, signage and traffic calming will be addressed in the plan.

Koski noted that the plan is being tackled by city staff, instead of hiring an outside consultant to complete the work. Because the study is remaining in-house, the city should save about $20,000, he estimated.

The small area study team consists 12 staff members, each from different departments in the city.

"We're drawing on everyone's expertise to put the plan together," he said.

As word has spread about the study, Koski said staff members and business owners have all expressed their support for the process.

"We're really excited about this," Koski said. "There's quite a buzz out in the community. It's all been very positive."

Alderman Jim Zajkowski said he hopes the new plan accomplishes more than previous downtown plans that cost taxpayers a bunch of money but never amounted to much.

"It will probably be a better study than we've ever had before," he said. "The key is getting the citizens involved ... so all the voices can be heard."

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