By Linda Scherer
WINSTED, MN Starting in the early 1900s, Winsted’s downtown grew to serve its residents, but today, much of the population has found their needs best served outside of town.
It’s the hope of the Winsted Downtown Vibrancy Task Force, appointed by the city council Jan. 17, to establish a shared vision that will enhance the town’s main streets so people will want to work and visit in Winsted once again.
If the formal process being followed by the Winsted Downtown Task Force remains on schedule, a shared vision for Winsted’s downtown could be recommended to the city council as soon as the end of July.
The next step in the task force process is to host a downtown vibrancy forum (workshop) to get community input.
The forum has been scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, April 30 at Winsted City Hall. All city and township residents, business owners, downtown property owners, employees who work in town and live elsewhere, seniors, and teens are asked to attend to share their vision for Winsted’s downtown.
The downtown task force is headed by Mayor Steve Stotko, and includes the following six members, chosen because of the groups they represent:
• President of the Winsted Area Chamber of Commerce Jeff Campbell;
• Flagship Bank Winsted Vice President Jim Fowler;
• Holy Trinity School Development Director Angie Hertel;
• Winsted Arts Council representative Char Laxen;
• downtown building owner, Diane Remer;
• Winsted City Council member and Lions Club representative George Schulenberg.
Winsted City Administrator Brad Martens has also attended meetings as a resource.
According to Stotko, the attendance and enthusiasm of the task force todate has been excellent.
The task force is following a program that was developed by Pennsylvania State University (PSU) and the Brookings Institute.
At the top of the list for the downtown task force, was to agree on what the downtown boundaries are, which, according to Stotko, “was an interesting discussion.”
Once the boundaries were agreed on, the committee did an individual walk-through inventory of the downtown using a checklist that was developed by PSU. Pictures have been taken for the visual imaging portion of the research.
The task force has also done a physical retail business inventory, and an analysis exercise called SWOT (strengths-weaknesses-opportunities-threats) which the task force will ask the general public to also do at the forum.
All of the information gathered by the task force during its research and from its meetings will be shared at the public forum.
At the end of the forum, the downtown task force will meet to gather all of the information received, and compile an action list of “must,” “should,” and “can” do.
From that list, a presentation to the city council will be prepared, recommending the shared vision for downtown Winsted, and how to carry the vision forward. Stotko estimates that to take place by the end of July.
Once this phase of the project is completed, the task force for phase one will end and will be handed over to another group.
Phase two of this project will put the recommendations into action in the form of a business plan, complete with cost estimates, assignment of tasks to different organizations, and identification of resources.
The idea to form a downtown task force was one of several items that were brought up at a joint council and city staff goal-setting retreat last fall. The responsibility to follow up with downtown concerns was turned over to Stotko.
As Stotko began to look into the issues regarding the downtown, one of the things he discovered was multiple organizations were working separately on ways to attract new business and visitors to Winsted.
Because of the limited resources of a small town, Stotko said he believed it was important for everyone to unite, and combine efforts, including organizations, the city, residents, the downtown business owners, and the downtown building owners, in deciding upon a course of action or non-action regarding the downtown.
Stotko began researching on the Internet to find out what other successful communities have done with their downtown areas and then approached Martens with the idea of setting up a task force specifically aimed at looking at the downtown.
Although the downtown task force won’t keep others from moving forward with their own project to enhance the downtown, it’s the hope of the task force that future projects will be done through one specific committee, to be able to combine the limited resources available.