Wise people often say closing one door just means another one is opening somewhere else.
That is what the bypass could mean for parts of Brainerd and Baxter.
It is a chance for Brainerd -- and a fair chunk of Baxter that is now also bypassed -- to take stock and work on a few issues. Image. Beautification. First impressions. Housing.
And ideas often come from other communities. In Austin, a city of about 23,000 in southeastern Minnesota, there have been efforts in beautification and housing and all of it in the downtown district.
They got the idea from Red Wing and the project began with a return to the decorative city street lamps, reminiscent of the city's past. The lamps paved the way for the hanging flower baskets. Austin looked at spending and found $53,196 without raising taxes. They used the money to buy about 450 flower baskets for hanging petunias, and pay for part-time summer help and a Cushman watering cart. The flowers alone account for $24,000 of the spending. The baskets hang from lamp posts on both sides of the city's downtown streets, creating a colorful border to buildings and cement sidewalks. By next year the hanging baskets will increase to about 500 in the city, including other retail areas.
City officials say it's one of the projects they receive a lot of positive feedback about and they believe there are positive effects on the entire city from the efforts.
There are always critics who would rather funds be spent elsewhere. But image and creating an attractive setting can be even more important as a city redefines itself. That type of introspection can come with a bypass.
Other cities that were never a big tourist destination have worked to create an image for their own steady customers, the area residents. Imagine that.
In Austin, albeit many miles to the south of Brainerd, the city decided the effort was worth city resources. The general public agreed.
Development opportunities for Austin's downtown also came in the form of much needed housing. City blocks with aging businesses were razed and a new apartment complex rose in its place.
Austin, like Brainerd, had a need for quality apartments. The city offered $1 million of land to private developers interested in the project. No one stepped forward.
So the city did it.
Austin's Housing and Redevelopment Authority issued bonds and tax-increment financing money was used to gain $5.5 million to get the land and construct a courtyard apartment complex. The complex has one to three bedroom apartments, but most are two bedrooms. Indoor parking is available on a parking area beneath the building along with a parking lot outside. But some residents do not have cars. Rent averages $650 to $675. None of the units are subsidized. The 78 units in the apartment were rented in three months. And a waiting list of 200 people developed.
The city is now building another apartment complex downtown with another 81 units with no doubt that the complex will fill up with paying renters. The attractive, multi-level building adds to an attractive downtown.
The apartments also provide customers, who live in walking distance, for downtown businesses from shops to restaurants. Now one of the few things missing downtown is a grocery store. Austin's finance director said the apartments also had a domino benefit by creating more houses for first-time buyers as others sold and moved into the Courtyard.
What keeps Brainerd from learning from these examples and becoming a pro-active city? Maybe it will take a few leaders and a general public that expresses an interest in working to create a vibrant Brainerd for the future.
A few people remarked last week they were still waiting for the traffic on Washington Street to disappear as motorists moved to use the bypass. And it is likely those days of counting boats and trailers by the dozens every hour may be part of the past.
But what may have been overlooked all the time is the fact that the east-west traffic flow makes for a busy corridor on Washington Street. Working commuters alone account for a Brainerd rush hour in the morning, evening and at noon.
This weekend will be the first holiday with an open bypass. While it was often an effort to get across streets, let alone across town on a busy bridge on a holiday weekend, it was also part of the spirit of living in an area where so many other people want to visit on a long weekend.
And it could be the beginning of a new chapter in the city's reinvestment in itself. What happens is up to the people and the leadership of those they elect.
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