Feb. 12, 2007

Downtown Redevelopment

By Cullen Schultz
Staff Writer

Downtowns used to be the focal point of a town, but now with advances in technology and roads, the focal point has shifted to along major transportation routes.

Although it is a natural trend, and it is happening everywhere, Delano is not about to give up its identity.

The city and private property owners alike are working hard to revitalize downtown, known as the central business district (CBD), to restore some of the traffic the area experienced during its heyday.

“The goal is to try to restore the significance of downtown to the city,” Delano City Administrator Phil Kern said.

During the 1950s and ‘60s, the downtown area of Delano was the commercial center of the town, as well as the surrounding area. The area thrived with grocery and clothing stores, as well as a theatre, bowling alley, and a hotel.

“In the ‘50s and ‘60s it was the center of commercial activity,” Kern said.

The rise of regional shopping centers and malls in Buffalo, Minnetonka, and Wayzata took customers and money away from Delano’s CBD. The local stores could not compete with the prices and variety the malls and shopping centers could provide, thus many businesses went into decline, and eventually closed.

“Malls and regional shopping helped the demise of the downtown,” Kern said.

Now, the City of Delano is attempting to bring back the activity the downtown once had, by initiating the Downtown Redevelopment Project.

The project was originally started in 1993 with the Central Business District Redevelopment Plan, and continued in 2002 with the Delano Comprehensive Plan. These plans laid the groundwork for the revitalization of downtown, to return the area to a community focal point once again.

The goal of the redevelopment project is to bring consumers as well as public traffic back to the downtown area.

“We want the downtown to remain the identity of Delano,” Kern said.

Although the CBD will not be like it was in the past, because of malls and shopping centers, Kern is hoping the unique historical architecture, new projects, and the new types of businesses will help the CBD restore its identity in Delano.

Kern, along with other officials, agree on the issue that the CBD must head in a different direction than it has in the past.

They realize the CBD can’t compete with the shopping centers and malls with retail, so they are trying to bring in specialty stores and entertainment instead to the CBD.

“The market is the way that it is, downtown has to adapt,” Kern said

The reason for bringing in specialty stores and entertainment is simple; it is a way for the Delano CBD to attract consumers.

Specialty stores can offer better customer service, changing inventory levels, and carry higher quality products.

“We are trying to rebuild around entertainment, restaurants, law firms, etc.,” Kern said.

The redevelopment project is well underway, with the city taking major steps to bring people to the downtown area.

In the past five years, the city has invested a large amount of money into the CBD, constructing new public buildings such as the city hall, and the fire station.

“Our downtown is making strides and is improving,” Kern said.

To go along with the public buildings, a new townhouse development and commercial building were constructed downtown, known as the Rivertown Development.

The townhouse development consists of eight townhouses, designed primarily for couples and young individuals. The units include two bedrooms, with an option of adding a third, three bathrooms, balconies, roof decks, and walk-up front stoops.

“They provide high-quality living, and it will bring people downtown to help support other activities,” Kern said.

Rivertown Development is owned by the city, and is currently available for purchase, with a grand opening planned for March. Jeff Vanderlinde with Coldwell Banker Burnet has worked closely with the city in marketing the project.

The commercial building was another idea that was implemented to attract people to the CBD.

Construction was completed late last year, and the Bead Cellar and Stein’s Barber Shop moved right in, with Juke Box scheduled to move in March.

The Rivertown Development is designed to be self-sufficient, meaning the money paid for the townhouse units or the commercial space will go to paying for its construction.

Years down the road, when construction is totally paid for, the money will go right to the city treasury and can be used for other projects.

The newest and biggest project coming up for the CBD is the Riverfront Park. Plans are in motion to add a public space next to the river, giving a social area for people to get together by the river.

“We are improving public areas to make downtown more welcoming,” Kern said.

The first few steps to the project have already taken place, with the demolition of the old buildings on the riverfront property, and a general concept design being drafted. The general concept design is a rough draft of what the city wants, and is still open for ideas from the public.

“Last year, the architect came up with the plans, and now we need funding,” Kern said.

There are a couple of different concept designs for the Riverfront, but it will start with a walkway by the river, doubling as a flood wall for protection against floods.

“It will provide additional flood protection,” Kern said.

Again, there are several options for the riverfront, but designs include things such as an arbor, benches, fountain, garden walk, gazebo, plaza, and a river promenade.

“It’s to provide a public interaction place by the river,” Kern said.

The initial goal for construction of the riverfront was two to three years, but without funding, the project is on hold until the city council decides it is a top priority for the city.

“We are currently researching grant opportunities,” Kern said.

The city has been doing a lot of work to redevelop the CBD, but Kern knows all too well that the project could never be completed without the help of private business and property owners.

“The city and downtown owners have a lot to be proud of, by taking steps to improve downtown,” Kern added.

Over the past few years, about 10 businesses have made substantial investments to their buildings, helping the downtown not only look better, but attract more people to the area.

The dedication from the private owners is what Kern thinks will make the downtown redevelopment work.

“These people are recognizing the way downtown is heading,” Kern said.

The city is willing and ready to work with owners in the downtown area who would like to improve their buildings.

“We continually work with private property owners to rehabilitate and revitalize their property,” Kern said.

There are a lot of challenges in redeveloping the CBD, with one of them being location. Downtown is not located on the most traveled road in Delano – Highway 12.

In order for the CBD to get more commuters from Highway 12, the city has numerous ideas to bring in visitors.

Future ideas include new signs showing where the CBD is on Highway 12, and streetscape improvements, such as lighting, sidewalk, and eventually a gateway, so one can distinguish when they are entering the CBD.

The downtown in Delano has a lot of history, and with help from the city, as well as private individuals, the downtown will continue with that history, and maybe even turn the page to a new identity.

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