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DL gears up for downtown project

Next year Washington Avenue through the downtown area will look similar to the north side, with trees, benches, colored crosswalks and other amenities that the downtown has been void of over the years.

Though the project is scheduled for 2014, the city is planning ahead and working with merchants to make sure they are happy with the final project. That means everything from signage to flowers, benches to bump outs.

The construction will start “as late as we can go in the summer, as close to Labor Day weekend as we can stomach,” City Engineer Jon Pratt said.

He said the trade-off with that is that the summer commerce can stay intact, but there is a risk of running into bad weather if winter comes early.

The alley behind JC Penney will more than likely be reconstructed early next year.

Trash cans and other sidewalk matters

In the past, Detroit Lakes had decorative trash receptacles along Washington Avenue, but they have become damaged over the years and not replaced. This summer, there are plastic garbage cans strapped to the light poles.

When asked if businesses were willing to help with emptying the trash cans if the city put in new, decorative receptacles with the project, Michael Norby said the businesses shouldn’t be responsible for that.

“We pay enough taxes, I’m sorry but we should get trash cans,” he said.

He added that he’s fine with having to take care of the flowers, but it should be the city’s responsibility to take care of the trash.

Another topic up for discussion was bump outs in the curbs. Bump outs were placed at intersections along Washington Avenue north of the tracks and along Veterans Memorial Parkway, but Pratt said, the downtown portion of Washington Avenue won’t be able to have them quite as defined as the north side of town simply because the street is so much narrower.

He asked for opinions on bump outs to see if they should be included in the project at all. Reviews came in mixed, but regardless of the bump outs, the project will include colored concrete at the crossings like there is on the north side.

Chamber President Carrie Johnston said some other suggestions for the project that she’s heard from businesses include power receptacles outside instead of having to run extension cords from inside the buildings during events such as Crazy Daze.

They also suggested spots in the sidewalk be open for a pole of sorts to be placed and businesses can put out Christmas trees or whatnot and have them stand up without tethering them to the light poles.

Pratt said there will also be trees along the sidewalk with grates around them. They will be irrigated.

There is a possibility for a watering system for the flowers as well.

Pratt asked if the merchants would rather have hanging baskets for the flowers or have planters on the sidewalk. But when planters, bike racks, benches and trash cans were all listed, it was agreed that it may be better to have the flowers in hanging baskets.

“It’s starting to look like a yard sale,” Pratt said of everything on the sidewalks.

Johnston said that after the project, there needs to be more directional signs installed for those not living here. She said people aren’t always sure how to get back to Highway 10 and other locations when they aren’t familiar with the area.

Another suggestion was a sound system, which Washington Square Mall Manager Dawn Olson said would be utilized but is lower on the list of things wanted or needed on Washington Avenue.

This fall, Pratt said the businesses along Washington Avenue will be getting notices for pre-construction inspections, where an inspector will come in and see if anything will hinder the project. Pratt said that is when old coal chutes, etc. have been found.

“Those things are done to protect everybody,” he said of the inspections.

Promotions during the project and after

City Administrator Bob Louiseau said the businesses need to come together and collaborate on an advertising campaign to let the local public know they are open and how to access them during construction. He said the city will help, but it’s the businesses that need to be responsible for “how they want to do it and what they want to do.”

Johnston said that the chamber’s promotion committee already talked about it and is willing to form another committee that will focus on just that — promoting the businesses during construction.

Though the project is downtown, Louiseau said it affects everyone in town because locals come downtown for lunch, shopping and other services.

“In the long haul, it’s going to be good for every business in Detroit Lakes,” he said.

The committee that will meet to help with promotions will meet Aug. 13 at 9 a.m. in the Chamber. Those willing to serve or give input are invited to attend.

The next meeting for the downtown merchants regarding the project is Aug. 20 at 8:30 a.m. in La Barista.

Follow Pippi Mayfield on Twitter at @PippiMayfield.