By Starrla Cray
WINSTED, MN A center for employment, an environment that offers public art, and a place to congregate and socialize . . . the Winsted Downtown Vibrancy Task Force sees limitless potential for the city’s main streets.
The volunteer group presented its research and recommendations at Tuesday’s Winsted City Council meeting.
“We do have a vision for our future, and there are people who are willing to step in and make things happen,” task force member Angie Hertel said.
Hertel and other task force members (Jeff Campbell, Jim Fowler, Charlotte Laxen, Diane Remer, George Schulenberg, and Steve Stotko) began establishing a shared vision for downtown in January.
One of the task force’s first steps was an initial walk-through inventory of downtown. A retail businesses inventory was also conducted, identifying goods and services available downtown, throughout Winsted, and within a 20-mile radius.
Photos were then taken of downtown, providing a snapshot for current and future reference.
The task force also did a strength, weakness, opportunity, and threat (SWOT) analysis.
Strengths were defined as Winsted Lake, the library, cleanliness of the town, a new city hall, low crime rate, and the historic buildings.
Weaknesses included vacant and unattractive buildings.
Vacant buildings were also seen as an opportunity for new business. A few other opportunities included Luce Line State Trail and lakefront promenade development, landscaping, jobs, lake activities, better marketing/advertising, and longer library hours.
Taxes, age of some buildings, the economy, and lack of patronage by new residents were defined as a few threats for Winsted’s downtown.
The group’s findings were echoed by more than 30 community members during a three-hour downtown vibrancy forum (workshop) April 30. All city and township residents, business owners, downtown property owners, employees who work in town and live elsewhere, seniors, and teens were welcome to attend to share their vision for Winsted’s downtown at this event.
The task force brought five major recommendation topics to the city council Tuesday evening: organization, marketing, design and plans, downtown development, and policies and business practices.
For organization, the task force recommended that the city create an entity to carry out the task force recommendations. The entity could be comprised of representatives from a variety of stakeholder groups, such as public officials, downtown business owners/managers, a city resident, and a commercial business owner/manager and educators.
The marketing aspect would involve promoting downtown Winsted’s unique qualities, and creating activities to draw people to the area. The task force recommended developing a promotions committee under the Winsted Chamber for this purpose.
For design and plans, recommendations involved sidewalk/trail improvements, signage, and beautification.
One downtown development idea included the pursuit of city incentives such as tax credits, tax abatement, and reduction of permitting fees to recruit business to the downtown. The task force also suggested supporting businesses during the first 12 months of operation through the creation of rent buy-down programs, and developing a web page for existing and potential business owners in Winsted, among other ideas.
Policy and business practice recommendations included a variety of economic development ideas, such as limiting fees on local businesses, maintaining a competitive tax rate, establishing a commercial rehab loan program for interior improvements downtown, and more.
The city council now plans to take the recommendations of the task force and work toward making the vision a reality.
“This is a great little city, and we definitely want it to grow,” Schulenberg said.