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Washington Avenue project may change; city, county to pair on ventures including housing

Becker County and the city of Detroit Lakes will soon be partnering on a couple of endeavors, but for now, the details are still vague.

Washington Avenue City staff is exploring the feasibility of extending the Washington Avenue redevelopment project to Willow Street.

The project now encompasses two downtown blocks, from Front Street to Frazee Street, said City Administrator Bob Louiseau. It will be rebid this winter, after bids were twice rejected for being too much above the engineer’s estimate.

“It’s one of the options we talked about (at a committee meeting earlier),” Louiseau said. “That downtown project is relatively small in scale, but if everybody has Washington Avenue from Frazee (Street) to Willow (Street) on their future projects list, it makes sense to get an engineering report and bring it in.”

That stretch of Washington Avenue is not currently in the five-year road plan, but Louiseau said it might be worth considering if it saves money overall.

“Does it make sense? If you put Project A and Project B together, do you get a better price?”

That stretch of Washington Avenue would also be designed to tie in with North Washington Avenue and the Veterans Memorial Park, which have colored concrete in some areas, ornate lighting, benches and other amenities.

“We were going to try to follow the RGD engineering plan, which the community really endorsed,” Louiseau said. “It’s not overly-ambitious if scheduled throughout the summer.”

As far as the project not being on the five-year road plan, Louiseau said, “it’s on our plan but not on our schedule yet – we just haven’t put a date and time to it yet, but we know we need to do it down the road.”\

“I don’t know if changing our five-year plan is very attractive to me,” Commissioner Barry Nelson said at the County Board meeting Tuesday.

Commissioner John Okeson noted, however, that Washington Avenue to Willow Street is looking in pretty poor shape, with cracks and crumbling asphalt.

Nelson said that while it might be beneficial in the long run to add the extra blocks to the project, he will not support the county paying to have the concrete continue down the street due to the added cost.

One housing department The city and county are also talking about combining their housing departments.

The process has been set in motion to merge the Becker County Housing and Economic Development and the Detroit Lakes Housing and Redevelopment Authority, which both provide Section 8 vouchers and public housing for those who qualify.

While each entity has provided affordable housing for either Becker County or city residents, with the combination of the entities, the housing and redevelopment authority would represent all eligible Becker County residents.

County Housing Director Jon Thomsen said that the state’s HUD program surprisingly doesn’t have a template on how to do this process, but he has found a couple counties in the state that have gone through it so the county and city won’t be starting from scratch.

He said that the city has about 45-50 public housing units, about double what the county has.

Not only will the joint venture represent those in Detroit Lakes, it also includes the remaining cities throughout the county — Audubon, Callaway, Detroit Lakes, Frazee, Lake Park and Ogema.

The board of directors for the authority would be appointed by the county commissioners and city council members representing the appropriate jurisdictions.

The entities will be meeting again on the joint powers agreement later this month.