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DL trolley rings up enthusiasm -- Committee seeks project manager

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Detroit Lakes, 56501
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

Since the project to implement a new local trolley service in Detroit Lakes began taking shape earlier this year, it's grown so much that the "Catch The Wave" Trolley Committee is looking for a project manager.

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The committee, which operates under the umbrella of the DL Regional Chamber of Commerce, will be accepting proposals from prospective candidates through this Friday, June 8.

"The project has grown to the point where it's bigger than our volunteers can handle," said Jo Johnson, who chairs the committee. "We need someone who can take it to the next level."

The purposes of the new trolley service -- which is projected to begin as early as the spring of 2008 -- are many:

n Downtown revitalization.

n Tourism enhancement.

n Economic development.

n Senior transportation (to supplement what's currently available).

n Beautification (trolley stops would be set up with attractive benches and signage).

It is not, however, intended to compete with existing local transportation services, such as Becker County Transit.

"We will have a predetermined route, with specific stops," Johnson explained. Passengers will need to board the trolley at one of the designated stops instead of calling the driver for pickup.

According to a description of the trolley project manager's duties that was released by the committee on May 24, the project manager is expected to work with committee members to accomplish the following:

n Prepare a business plan outline.

n Prepare both operational and capital budgets.

n Research trolley operations in similar-sized communities.

n Identify or located used trolleys (the committee is looking at purchasing two vehicles).

n Recruit an expert to inspect the trolleys.

n Negotiate trolley and related equipment purchases.

n Determine needs and negotiate winter storage, maintenance and labor needed with Becker County and/or the City of Detroit Lakes.

n Negotiate a maintenance agreement.

n Secure financing and funding sources.

n Take charge of publicity and media relations.

n Determine fee structure for individual rides and/or rentals.

n Research and recommend hours of operation, routes and related items.

n Determine inventory for fund raising (signs, benches, advertising opportunities).

n Discover necessary permits, agreements, etc., with the city to allow operation and execute/secure them.

n Determine and execute operational structure.

n Place value on inventory.

n Coordinate all fund raising efforts.

The cost of hiring the project manager will be funded entirely through donations; approximately half of the expected cost has already been secured through contributions from the local branches of Bremer, Midwest and Wells Fargo banks as well as Detroit Lakes Newspapers.

"Some people may think of this as a 'trolley folly,' but that's not the case," said committee member Dennis Winskowski, who is also the publisher of DL Newspapers. Once the trolleys have been secured and put into service, "people all over the state will recognize Detroit Lakes for having it."

"There may be some initial skepticism, but... I haven't heard of any towns that have one (a trolley) that have gotten rid of it," Johnson said. "It becomes an icon."

The reason why the committee is looking for two trolleys instead of one, Johnson added, is that the preliminary service area that's being discussed -- from the Detroit Lakes Pavilion up Washington Avenue to the new Highway 10 frontage road, then east to Country Inn & Suites and back -- is simply too long for one vehicle.

"It's 45 minutes (for one vehicle to travel the entire route)," Johnson said. In addition, having a second vehicle will allow at least one of the trolleys to be rented out for the occasional special event, "which will add to the operational income," she added.

The name of the trolley service will be "The Wave," which will serve as a tie-in to the current "Catch the Wave" promotional project by the Chamber to keep commerce and tourism in the community flowing during the Highway 10 realignment project (slated for completion by 2009).

The trolley project was actually an offshoot of the "Catch the Wave" promotion, Johnson noted, but while that promotion is slated to end with the completion of the Highway 10 project, the trolley service is expected to continue indefinitely.

The preliminary business plan for the project has tentatively set the cost of purchasing two used trolleys, equipping service stops with benches and signage, plus two years of startup operational costs, at $250,000-$300,000.

Winskowski says the current plan is to finance much, if not all, initial project costs, then use donations, pledges and promotional opportunities to pay off the loans over a period of several years.

"We're trying very hard to make this (project) great for everyone, and a burden to no one," Johnson concluded.

Anyone who is interested in learning more about the trolley project, or feels they have knowledge and expertise that they could contribute toward it, can contact Jo Johnson at 846-0100.

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Detroit Lakes Online (218) 847-9409 customer support
Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 14 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as obituaries. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.
(218) 844-1454
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