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What will Detroit Lakes look like? -- Planning firm lays out ideas for 'crescent' area and event center

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What will Detroit Lakes look like? -- Planning firm lays out ideas for 'crescent' area and event center
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

Detroit Lakes could look radically different in the next few years.

Or not. It depends on whether city leaders opt to follow ideas outlined in RDG Planning and Design's redevelopment plans.


Those plans were presented during a Detroit Lakes Regional Chamber of Commerce mini-summit held at the Minnesota State Community and Technical College-Detroit Lakes on Wednesday morning.

Before the unveiling took place, Detroit Lakes Mayor Larry Buboltz said that what's being presented isn't a final plan by any means.

"It still is open for community input and suggestions," he said. "We're not done with this thing yet, we need everybody's opinion."

Dividing the redevelopment efforts into six districts, RDG Principal Planner Marty Shukert said that they could be prioritized, but fit together in a cohesive unit.

He said that with the reconstruction of Highway 10, Detroit Lakes is presented with a unique opportunity to build from scratch, at least in some parts of the city.

"It's a canvas to work on to turn it into something much better," Shukert said.

That canvas included making it easier to navigate through downtown Detroit Lakes.

Before removing the S-curve that cut through parts of downtown, Shukert said that those new to the area could get lost fairly easily.

"It's incredible how much easier it is to read downtown Detroit Lakes and tell where you're at," Shukert said. "Because the diagonal highway going down the middle of downtown really did, at least to a foreigner like me, get pretty disorienting."

RDG had to be realistic in its plans, Shukert said. In his remarks prefacing the actual plans being presented, he said that there are obvious limits to what the city can do.

One of those is providing infrastructure and another one is realizing that much of the redevelopment is dependent on private industry.

"It does no good to propose something that no one is going to actually build," Shukert said.

He sees the city's role in providing the building blocks as an important one.

"It sets up the framework in which the private sector can respond," Shukert

Conditions need to be created that are ripe for economic activity, Shukert added.

"It's hard to go and pay people to start businesses and restaurants," he said. "What we need to do or think about doing is to create an environment that causes people to open those kinds of businesses and invest in the downtown district."

The striking change, if any of the plans are to come to pass, is the revamping of the Gateway District into what is now called "The Crescent".

The Crescent would be based around a new road arcing around Front Street's current terminus behind the former Mac's Hardware Building and bring it to Frazee Street to meet up with an expanded St. Mary's Innovis Campus.

"I consider it to be closing the loop of Main Street," Shukert said.

The Mac's Building would be demolished to make room for a Veteran's Memorial Park. It possibly would have water features to enhance the new greenery.

Along the new road, Shukert envisions mixed-use space for offices and new retail businesses.

It won't be a carbon copy of what is already along Washington Avenue.

"We see the Crescent as a Main Street environment, but not necessarily trying to replicate what's already on Washington Avenue," Shukert said. "It's potentially a little more modern-kind of look."

One key to making it friendly are wide walkways and plenty of diagonal parking lining the new street. "It's a new pedestrian-oriented street that is oriented and visible to the new Highway 10," Shukert said.

Another component that will spark debate is the construction of a new event center.

Three options were proposed by Shukert and included attaching the project to an existing hotel, preferably the Clubhouse Hotel; building it at the intersection of Washington Avenue and West Lake Drive kitty-corner from the Pavilion; or attaching it to the Detroit Lakes Community and Cultural Center.

"Each of one of those has some pizzazz and appeal," Shukert said.

The event center would feature about 10,000 square feet of event space and supported by another 10,000 square feet for offices and cooking facilities.

"It's a good-sized space, but not so gigantic that it's beyond the capability of the community," Shukert said.

A feasibility study conducted by Economics Research Associate said that attaching it to hotel was the best option.

However, Shukert said that plans to attach it to the DLCCC are intriguing as well.

"That's an option that has some interesting possibilities because the event center could always serve activities that are going on at the community center," he said. "There is a natural affinity there and it becomes a downtown project. Eventually if a hotel would develop, it would have some natural exposure to Highway 10."

An event center would tie into redevelopment plans for what is being called the Holmes District. An option on the table is to construct a promenade between Washington Square Mall and the DLCCC.

During a question-and-answer session, one attendee questioned whether the city could support the event center.

Shukert said that the city dollars would be used to build it, but he thinks that enough revenue would be generated to operate it.

RDG's plans also tied in other areas, including Washington Avenue by the mall, the St. Mary's Innovis campus South Washington Avenue, North Washington Avenue, and West Lake Drive.

Downtown Detroit Lakes near Washington Avenue could be upgraded without a lot of work, Shukert said.

Outlining intersections and creating mid-block crosswalk would do wonders for improving downtown, he said.

Revamping Washington Avenue wouldn't be just about planting a lot of trees.

"It's not necessary to line the whole street with trees," Shukert said. "In fact, businesses don't like that because it blocks their visibility."

Benches, bike racks, and ornamental streetlights that match in style can beautify the area, Shukert said. Outside tables for dining outside the mall would give the area more of a Main Street feel, he added.

"It's softening that hard-type of environment," Shukert said.

While some of the plans will take time, Shukert expects that the Crescent will be one of the city's first priorities.

"We suspect that it will be the first thing to happen because the land is there," Shukert said.

Buboltz doesn't see the redevelopment finishing in just a few years.

"This probably will not happen in the next year or two, but could be spread out over the next 5,10 or perhaps 15 years," Buboltz said.

The plans aren't set in stone. Shukert compared it to the World Trade Center site in New York City where the architect's plans are being changed to suit realities with money and time.

"There's a very good possibility that things you see today will not literally come to pass," Shukert said. "We hope to influence events or influence decisions, but things will change and there is a dynamic process when cities like Detroit Lakes change over time."

Concurring with that, Buboltz said that a lot of work is still left to do.

"What you will see here is not a finished project," he said.