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Howard Lake seeks funds for downtown improvements and renovation
Dec. 28, 2015

Ivan Raconteur

HOWARD LAKE, MN – The City of Howard Lake recently took another step toward its goal of downtown revitalization when its preliminary proposal for grant funding was deemed “competitive,” meaning the city can proceed with a final application in February.

City Administrator Nick Haggenmiller explained that the city “has been actively and deliberately studying, planning, and seeking funding to enhance the downtown commercial district since 2011.”

Haggenmiller outlined the steps that have occurred since that time.

The process began with a comprehensive community visit from the Minnesota Design Team that identified potential project areas, and provided basic designs and sketches for what the downtown could look like with the right enhancements.

In 2012, the city council, as part of its annual goal setting process, made downtown programming and funding a priority with the following two goals:

• Consider downtown redevelopment and investment opportunities; and

• Enhance pedestrian safety along the downtown Highway Commercial District.

To support these priorities, annual budgets have included small amounts for both short- and long-term enhancements downtown, according to Haggenmiller.

In 2013, the city submitted a letter of interest to the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) for the Small Cities Development Program (SCDP).

The program uses federal grant monies to assist in the creation of loans and grants to businesses for building, rehabilitation, and façade improvements, and to address code violations, and health and safety issues most commonly found in local commercial districts.

In order for the city to submit a competitive grant application, the proposed funding must include a large number of private property owners as well as a cornerstone or community project, Haggenmiller noted.

During the summer of 2014, city staff met with downtown business owners to gauge interest.

A list of approximately two dozen property owners was created and submitted for a pre-application in November 2015. The total pre-application of $475,500, which included monies for a dozen projects along Highway 12, as well as $200,000 requested to renovate the historic city hall building.

Statewide, the program received 48 preliminary proposals totaling approximately $27 million.

Of those proposals, nine have been determined to be competitive. The remaining proposals were determined to be either marginal, or not competitive.

The projected amount for grants to be awarded in the 2016 cycle is $17 million.

Recently, the city learned Howard Lake was one of the nine cities deemed competitive, and will be invited to submit a full and final application in February 2016.

Moving forward, the City of Howard Lake will also be seeking funding from the Minnesota Historical Society under the Legacy program to assist in a large preservation and enhancement project relating to the former city hall. To date, nearly $10,000 in grant funding has been obtained for this purpose, and a feasibility study has been completed that quantifies needed deferred maintenance and enhancement estimates for the city to make use of the full building, including the second floor.

The council is interested in making this space into an event and meeting center for the public to use for weddings, anniversary parties, corporate meetings, and so forth.

“This grant is an opportunity for Howard Lake to restore our community’s centerpiece, making it a place suitable for gatherings and celebrations, and also provide much needed repairs without burdening the taxpayers,” Mayor Pete Zimmerman noted. “Hopefully, it will be just the beginning of our revitalization efforts in the downtown area.”

Next steps

The city will learn if it received funding in late spring for SCDP, and in late summer for the Minnesota Historical Society.

If the city is successful in securing funding, renovations of private businesses on Highway 12 could begin in the summer of 2016, and a possible large renovation project, including the historic city hall building, could start in the summer of 2017.

Interested business and property owners are encouraged to contact city hall for more information.

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