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Hastings wins ‘City of Excellence’ award

Hastings city representatives are pictured after receiving the "City of Excellence Award." (Submitted photo)

Hastings was named one of the League of Minnesota Cities’ “City of Excellence Award” winners last week.

On June 16, the organization held its annual conference, where it announced 13 winners, including Hastings.

“We’re really excited,” said Mayor Paul Hicks.

Each year, the League of Minnesota Cities invites cities to apply for the awards. Hastings submitted a proposal for consideration, highlighting the extensive Riverfront Renaissance work that’s been done in the downtown area.

The project, especially the revitalization of Veterans Memorial Levee Park, has earned the city several compliments, Hicks said.

“We thought, there’s so much enthusiasm,” he said. “We knew it would be an exciting place, but we didn’t anticipate how great it’s been received.”

In response to the feedback, the city figured it was a significant enough achievement to be worth considering for the award.

To compete for consideration as a City of Excellence, cities self-nominated a project, program or initiative that was administered to achieve one or more of the following: improvement of the quality of a city service, development of an effective or innovative way to solve an old or common problem, modification of a program from another community or organization to fit city needs, discovery of a way to save the city money without compromising service results and/or creative involvement of city staff or citizens in making a decision.

Winning entries were chosen in three population categories and in a special topical category.

Hastings’ proposal was entered into the category for cities with populations of at least 20,000. Hastings was notified about two weeks ago that it had won the City of Excellence Award.

“For many years, the City of Hastings was a quiet Mississippi River town noted for a historic downtown area,” wrote the League of Minnesota Cities in announcing the awards. “Spurred by the construction of the Highway 61 Bridge, though, the community had a vision to become a premier gathering space for residents and visitors alike. A vision committee of city councilmembers, business leaders, and community groups organized to undertake a project that would attract visitors, enhance economic vitality, and improve quality of life for residents.”

The Riverfront Renaissance project invests in renewing the downtown area.

“We understand that the heart and soul (of Hastings) begins in the downtown,” Hicks said.

The project involves three phases spread out over three years. It is currently in the third and final phase. Hastings Public Works Director Nick Egger said the project total, over all three phases plus an additional alley project scheduled for next year, is on track for just under $8 million. The city won a number of grants to help pay for the project as well, totaling a little more than $1 million, Egger said. The city is also utilizing about $750,000 from its Minnesota Department of Transportation State Aid Local Transportation Account to pay for much of the street reconstruction, storm sewer work and streetscaping along East Second Street and portions of Ramsey and Tyler streets this year.

The investment, Hicks said, has been significant in terms of boosting other local development as well. Two large developments are in the works on the east and west ends of the downtown area, while others, like BreakAway Arts, Bella Vista, and EyeCandy Refind took up residence in existing downtown spaces. A number of downtown businesses have invested in updates of their own, as well.

Hicks noted that the new park space is already bringing new customers to the businesses. He noted a recent wedding held in the park that hosted the reception at The Onion Grille.

“That’s the type of thing we like to see,” Hicks said.

The project is already accomplishing the city’s goal, even before construction is finished.

“Our intention was to bring people downtown,” Hicks said.

The 2016 City of Excellence award nominations were judged by a two-person panel of past League of Minnesota Cities presidents, including Richard Brainerd, councilmember from the City of Mahtomedi, and Jim Miller, former executive director of the League.