Open house reveals new ideas for downtown
Public input has been a driving factor in the planning taking place for Hastings’ downtown riverfront. Last Wednesday, March 26, the public had another opportunity to see and comment on the concepts during an open house held at City Hall. The open house was also a chance for the city and Bolton & Menk, the consulting firm assisting with project development, to show new concept drawings.
The “Riverfront Renaissance” project involves several pieces of infrastructure improvement as well as beautification of the downtown area. It primarily focuses on the riverfront area between the Highway 61 bridge and Tyler Street and the area around East Second Street. Ideas so far have centered on street repairs and streetscape improvements, Levee Park improvements and boulevard, parking lot and alley improvements.
Although several concepts have been presented to the public, there’s still a lot to be decided and the city and project designers are looking to the public for more input.
“We’re not done with this process,” said landscape architect Jim Harbaugh of Bolton & Menk.
After showing three ideas for the layout of Levee Park, Bolton & Menk has developed a fourth drawing that incorporates features from previous concepts as well as feedback they’ve received.
The updated concept includes a space for a seasonal ice skating rink, a roundabout-type drop off area at the north end of Ramsey Street, a musical playground, a memorial overlook next to the American Legion and an art walk connecting the park to the bridge. Archway signs over the north ends of Sibley and Ramsey streets would invite people into the park. Drawings show a design that uses the same architectural elements as City Hall’s corner towers.
Moving into downtown, concepts showed more detail on bump-outs, or expanded sidewalk areas at intersections.
To bring more green into downtown, the concepts show a handful of trees in the sidewalk area as well as large above ground planters.
Keeping green space and parks in mind, a new concept for Oliver’s Grove Park was presented. The new drawing realigns the park toward the intersection and includes two small but prominent water fountains.
Just a little farther east is a strip of land north of the new parking lot between Tyler Street and the railroad tracks. The space could become a trail head with a playground, kiosk, bicycle rack and landscaping.
“Let’s make it a usable space for downtown,” Harbaugh said.
Those who attended the open house offered a handful of comments and suggestions for Bolton & Menk, including working with the National Park Service to highlight the area as part of the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, modifying the ice rink area to be usable in some way all 12 months of the year and moving the restrooms into a warming house by the skating area.
Some concerns were voiced as well. Ongoing construction has been a burden to downtown businesses during bridge work, and some business owners prefer a break in construction.
The question of funding was also raised. Since the project is still in the concept phase, there has been no cost estimate made yet. Once all the elements are decided and approved by the city council, the city will be able to better determine the project cost.
Public outreach is the key to the current concept phase. Bolton & Menk started developing sketches and ideas based off the Levee Park master plan, which the city had already written. But it’s comments from the public, the scoping committee and stakeholders that are really shaping the look of the project.
“We take everybody’s concerns,” said Brian Hilgardner, project manager with Bolton & Menk.
Bolton & Menk has gone out of its way to gather input from everyone who cares to contribute. Beyond the open house meetings, the firm is holding one-on-one meetings with downtown business owners and is working closely with a committee of residents, business people, community leaders and city government representatives. They’ve also created a website just for the project, where anyone can go to look at the ideas and the work that’s been done so far and submit their comments.
“(Public outreach) has gone above and beyond,” Hilgardner said.
To view the website, go to www.bolton-menk.com/ clients/Hastings/MasterPlan.
Project development is nearing its final stages. The current stage, building a community consensus on what should be in the project, will end with review and endorsement by the city council, which is expected to be done sometime in April. After that, the project will move into technical design through April and May. Bidding is expected to open sometime in June, with construction beginning after a contract is awarded.
It has yet to be determined how much construction would be done this year.