Herald JournalHerald Journal, Oct. 18, 2004

Design team makes plans for Winsted's future

By Jane Otto

Pointing to a drawing of downtown Winsted, Marv Ebensperger and Keith Ide discussed the potential a proposed bike path through the downtown might have.

About 80 other people also walked the perimeter of Holy Trinity’s gym Saturday night eyeing the Minnesota Design Team’s perception of Winsted’s future needs.

They viewed plans that included downtown lake-front development, historic building rehabilitation, and bike trails, along with recommendations for youth leadership training, a watershed management district, and employer-supported vocational programs.

Almost 200 people came Friday evening to share their ideas about Winsted with design team members so the team could formulate that future plan.

“This has been one of the largest groups I’ve been involved with. It was a huge turnout. It was fantastic.” co-leader and team member Dan Green said.

As he wrapped up Saturday’s presentation, Green said, “You folks have to take it to the next step. We know you’ve got it in you . . . It’s time for a new dawn of Winsted.”

Looking for a vision

Searching for a vision, the city of Winsted applied for a Minnesota Design Team visit about one year ago.

The city wanted help with the challenges it faces, such as growth and housing, while protecting the lake, and enhancing a downtown area with the eventual restoration of the old city hall.

To do this, the city also wanted to know what its residents want, Mayor Don Guggemos said. “We want to be more aware of what they think we are and what they think our needs are.”

The design team incorporates all those ideas within a 48-hour visit.

A volunteer group of people, such as architects, environmentalists, and urban planners, the team visits two cities per year — one in spring and one in fall. In the past 20 years, a design team has visited more than 80 towns.

Armed with a few personal items and lots of creativity, 25 people ascended upon Winsted Thursday. Design team members came from as far as Fargo, N.D., and Duluth and as near as Clearwater and Minneapolis.

The team also included six students and their teacher from the School of Environmental Studies in Apple Valley.

The group stayed with several host families in Winsted, which Green said is a way team members “can really connect with the town.”

Connecting with Winsted

For more than 12 hours Friday, teams members absorb all the information they could about Winsted.

They listened to 18 presentations centering on the town’s history, businesses, industry, schools, natural resources, festivals, health care, and community organizations.

Members took a tour of the town, noting old and new buildings, new developments, the downtown lake-front, parks, the airport, and industrial park. Some took a pontoon ride for another view of town.

That information was transposed during a two-hour work session into five questions the design team asked residents Friday evening.

“That was kind of an information overload for us, but we absorbed it all” co-leader Andrew Mack said.

The “pivotal point” was the question-and-answer forum Friday night, Mack said.

Roughly 200 people gave their gut feelings to five questions. Only in Winsted for a year, Gina Thesing liked the way the team handled the forum to ensure people would answer honestly. “That process was really not inhibiting,” she said.

Residents wrote down their answers, but the answers were shuffled among different tables so that someone else would read the answers.

They answered such questions as: What is the heart of Winsted? What should be valued? What is Winsted’s role in the region? What’s your vision of Winsted in 25 years?

From those answers and the earlier information gathering, the design team assembled their future vision for Winsted.

A design

For a feverish eight hours Saturday, team members discussed, charted, and illustrated Winsted’s design.

They enjoy the challenge, Green said. “It’s fun. You can dream a little. You’re not encumbered by clients or budgets. We all have our own values and we’re able to share our values with a community.”

The culmination of that work was Saturday’s presentation.

“Each and every one of you contributed to this process,” Mack told Saturday’s audience. “We spent the entire day . . . figuring out what we think will make Winsted a special place to be, not only now, but in the future.”

They offered several solutions they thought will help Winsted to be that “place to be.”

One solution was linking the Luce Line trail from where it stops at Baker Avenue and Kingsley Street to where it starts again at Grass Lake Road. A bike trail was proposed through town with “trail heads,” which could provide parking and educational materials.

When a design member presented the lake-front development design, someone in the audience could be heard saying, “Isn’t that awesome?”

The illustration showed a civic plaza at the end of Main Street leading into what he called “Mill Street.”

The area featured a restaurant or coffee shop with outdoor seating, retail shops with apartments above, a lookout spot and grand stairs leading to an enhanced beach and a marina.

Now, people leave Winsted to do things, Mack said. The bike trails and lake-front development might encourage people to stay here.

“It’s an excellent idea,” said Ide, who attended both nights. “You still need a builder. It’s all economics from that point on, but it’s a beginning.”

Tom Starkjohn, pastor of Harvest Community Church, liked the idea of a community center. “I’m more interested in reaching out to people. I’d rather work hard to get a community center,” he said. “The city needs a way for the people to connect.”

The human element

In addition to physical changes, the design team also recognized the need to incorporate the town’s youth.

They suggested enticing youth involvement through vocational technical programs at local businesses or cooperative programs between the schools and local medical clinics or the Adult Training and Habilitation Center.

“Youth is the biggest disconnect,” design team member Janette Monear said. “You need to bring them forward. They are the future of your community.”

She suggested initiating a leadership training program to have a system in place for new leadership.

“A health citizenship is a real important pillar for the future of Winsted,” Monear said.

Other possibilities included a developing watershed management district for shoreline protection, restoration and conservation, doing a natural resource inventory, or a market inventory analysis.

What’s next

The next step will be organizing committees based on the different areas, Green said. The team leaders will visit Winsted in six months to see how progress is going.

“We increasingly try to make it achievable,” Green said of the design team’s suggestions. “The town pretty much has to take it from there.”

City Administrator Brent Mareck said the city spent roughly $8,000 on the design team visit, but added that if it went with private consultants, “we’d be looking at $100,000 worth of billable hours.”

The volunteers the visit demanded generated a lot of enthusiasm, Mareck said. “The thing is if you spent $100,000 on consultants, I think you’d have less turnout and less enthusiasm.”

Guggemos commended Mareck’s hard work during the team’s stay and in organizing the visit.

“Brent did a phenomenal job putting the application together,” he said.

Considering the city’s next step, he added, “This gives us a great deal of potential. The point is we’ll always have a direction we’re working toward.”

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