New movement may be afoot in downtown Brainerd revitalization efforts.
That was the update by John Erickson, Brainerd Restoration president, in a Thursday afternoon speech before the Brainerd Lakes Area League of Women Voters.
Erickson recounted recent trips to a variety of cities where the downtown atmosphere was either renovated or created new as replicas of the main streets of the 1930s and 1940s.
"It's bricks, it's little alcoves, it's little different roof lines," Erickson said of a trip to Shaumburg, Ill. ,where he saw a shopping Mecca with narrow streets and lamps with hanging flowers.
Other trips were to Canal Park in Duluth, the St. James Hotel in Red Wing, Lanesboro, Northfield and the Arbor Lakes development in Maple Grove.
All had elements in common. Erickson said what he saw again and again was a vital downtown with solid economic development and attractions that draw people to the community.
The master plan created from public meetings and the concept for a streetscape ended up being adopted by the city of Brainerd.
"I underline 'in concept' because that is all that has happened," Erickson said before adding the one thing the city has done is agree to put in old-fashioned globe street lights. Erickson said the lights remind him of those put in Little Falls when that city worked on its downtown image.
In Brainerd, the lights are expected to be installed on about a two-block stretch along Laurel Street when the street is redone this summer.
Erickson said parking in downtown continues to be an issue, a political hot potato and a perception problem. Either way, he said the parking issue can have a braking action on renovation. Creating a pedestrian friendly area with an option to walk, which is highlighted in vibrant downtowns, is one way to create community, Erickson said.
He admitted talking about downtown revitalization can be a delicate subject as downtown may be weak in some minds and strong in others, particularly those with vibrant businesses in the district. But the biggest challenge may be what comes first -- political will to move forward with the master plan or private development to drive the action. There are still considerations of a downtown town square, a convention center with banquet hall to the east of the downtown core, options for Franklin Junior High School as an arts center, thoughts of a performing arts center at Brainerd High School and phasing in the master plan over five to seven years. Erickson said the city can go in two directions -- either with commercial development or focusing downtown as a government center.
Erickson said he hoped the light project sparks more attention.
"We hope the community will brighten up by seeing what these lights can do and the community will want more of them."
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