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Downtown project moves into final design: Council approves general scope of the Riverfront Renaissance project

It’s official. Hastings will be getting a new look to its downtown area over the next few years.

Although the final designs have yet to be developed, a general scope or master plan was approved by the Hastings City Council on Monday evening. The general idea of the project is to redesign some parts of the downtown area and add improvements to others.

Project Manager Brian Hilgardner of Bolton & Menk, the design firm working with the city to develop the plans, stressed that the document approved by the council this week is not the final design and there is still room for features to be changed or tweaked.

There’s a lot to be done over the next few years.

“This is a big project,” Hilgardner said. “We’ve got a lot in front of us, a lot of cost in front of us, a lot of work and a lot of time.”

To help manage the immensity of the project, it’s being broken down into three phases, the first of which is set to begin this fall. That first phase will be a smaller piece of the project than the second and third phases, in part because of how late into this year’s construction season it falls and in part because of the available funding the city has this year to pay for the work.

Work this year and early next year will focus on some minor streetscaping on Ramsey and Tyler streets north of Second Street, constructing the veterans memorial plaza at Levee Park’s riverfront steps and installing a park and trail head on the south side of East Second Street between the railroad depot and Tyler Street. Installation of some wayfinding signs is also expected to begin in this phase and will likely continue throughout and beyond the duration of the larger project.

Bolton & Menk got the council’s approval Monday to begin working on the final design for phase one. Construction is expected to begin this fall and is likely to finish in early spring of next year.

Phase two, which focuses on Levee Park and the parking lot between the park and the Second Street businesses, is planned for the construction season of 2015. Phase three, which will deal with the remaining street improvements, Oliver’s Grove Park, streetscaping and street lighting, is planned for 2016.

Council members had a number of comments and questions regarding some features of the project, but overall had enthusiasm for the upcoming work.

“I can’t think of a better economic development project for downtown than this,” said Mayor Paul Hicks.

Hicks recalled being a boy in Hastings and having nothing to do on the riverfront other than throw rocks into the water. Hastings sits on one of the greatest rivers in the world, he said, but for a long time has not taken advantage of it like other river cities like Red Wing and Stillwater have.

“When we’re done with this, we’ll compete against anybody,” he said.

There are challenges that come along with the project, said councilmember Danna Elling Schultz, especially when it comes to finding funds for the entire project, roughly estimated at $4.725 million for all three phases. But it’s an opportunity for Hastings to move forward, she said.

“I think this Riverfront Renaissance is an unbelievable opportunity for the community,” she said. “… Instead of having our backs turned toward the river, now we’re going to look to it.”

The next step in the process will be to develop the final plans and nail down specific details for phase one. Those plans will be presented to the city by Bolton & Menk once they’re developed.

The concepts included in the master plan so far were developed through a collaborative effort between Bolton & Menk, city staff, downtown businesses and a stakeholder committee made up of community leaders, residents, business people, government representatives and city staff.

The concept plans and more information about the project can be viewed online at clients/Hastings/MasterPlan.