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Laurel residents view downtown plans

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LAUREL — The visualization of a new updated downtown was on the minds of Laurel residents as they attended an open house for the downtown revitalization plan June 29.

Primary project areas include Second Street through intersections of Elm Street, Oak Street and Cedar Street. Possible expansion areas would be Pine Street to Spruce Street.

“It’s exciting to see it come this close. The input we got today will help move the project forward,’’ said City Councilman Keith Knudsen. “Everybody is in agreement. JEO does a good job.’’

The community looked at some sample plans and ideas for the downtown project and placed stickers by the ideas and concepts they favored.

“I’m excited for the whole project,’’ said Economic Development Coordinator Chris Rasmussen. “The project will be really good for Laurel.’’

JEO Engineers Nathan Boone and Roger Protzman were available for questions on the project. Landscape architects Dolores Silkworth and Caitlin Bolte also answered questions about their ideas for the project and gathered ideas from residents. Silkworth and Bolte have completed projects like this one for downtowns across the midwest.

“We love the smaller communities. My first drive into town surprised me with the number of people downtown on a Friday afternoon. Tonight we are hearing from the community and business members as we think about what’s right for Laurel,’’ Silkworth said at the open house. “We have photographed the street and are listening to the leadership committee’s concerns and ideas. Engineering fundamentals driving the project are most important. One of the things people talk about and remember the most are the streetscape factors like street lights, fixtures, benches and trees. These contribute to a vibrant downtown street look.’’

Silkworth said any of the essentials that are put into the project will be based on input and the budget. The committee will make the final decision.

“Laurel’s buildings are gorgeous,’’ Bolte said. According to Silkworth, Laurel’s community possesses a vitality and interest which every project doesn’t resonate in metro areas.

“Laurel’s diversity and density downtown really stands out as a hallmark. There is a density in downtown that is rarely seen in towns. I like talking to people about ideas. I also like to draw and use my imagination,’’ Silkworth said. “I learn from every project. I was impressed here at Laurel with how the leadership committee is in step with each other and all working as a team.”

Boone, the project manager for JEO, said their team started earlier this year putting together thoughts and concepts as to what would really work and including common project ideas.

“We started in the fall of 2019 to try to help find solutions,’’ he said. “We will plan documents and get bids later this fall. We will work with the city to negotiate with a contractor. The project will be built in one season, 2021. We are balancing the needs and wants of the project while being cost effective to give the community what they want to see.’’

The community center aspect of the project may drive some changes to the project, according to Boone. He also encourages individuals to give their input and ideas to Chris Rasmussen. Boone said the finished project will be whatever the group decides.

“The exact limits of the project are still being worked out,’’ he said. “Drainage is a unique component in this project. We need a good balance of landscaping and vegetation. We have a blank slate that allows us an opportunity to do many things. Safety is paramount. We need insurance that drainage will help the streets and sidewalks be free of ice and ankle deep water. The sidewalks will be Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant. The safe downtown aspect is the largest part of the project.’’

Mayor Mark Patefield echoed Boone’s view of the project from the safety standpoint.

“Safety is number one,’’ Patefield said. “The height of the curbs will be accessible and safe. This project will take care of the drainage that accumulates at the curb. It will be easier to get around. The project will also address how the downtown looks, the character of the town will be enhanced.’’

Patefield said the look of the project will include green space to affect the appearance of downtown because it is the heart of the town. How that looks affects how people think of a town especially when they first drive in.

“The majority of people feel it is long overdue,’’ Patefield said. JEO Engineers have worked with the city for a long time, according to Patefield.

“They have a good idea of the character of the community. I feel like we are on the same page. They know how important water drainage is,’’ Patefield said. “Hopefully we will be done with the project in 2021. We plan to go out for bids in late fall. Where the project stops depends on how much we can afford.’’

The best aspect of the project for Patefield has been the ideas.

“I like to hear everybody’s ideas. Thoughts of what we could do is my favorite part of the project,’’ Patefield said. “Obviously the project will benefit Laurel for a long time. We will take all the information and go more in depth with the project.’’

The main goals of the project include:

1. Safe: downtown Laurel will become an ADA compliant and accessible neighborhood.

2. Downtown Laurel will provide a safe and level walking surface and clear, visible crossings.

3. The new design for downtown will have proper drainage and well-lit streets for maximum use and enjoyment.

The downtown will serve an important role as a civic gathering space for the City of Laurel.

When citizens are asked about their community and sense of place, downtown Laurel will be at the top of their minds. Laurel will attract new growth and development within the downtown area by becoming a destination that compliments the character and history of Laurel. The City of Laurel will leverage the unique character and history of downtown to attract new talent.

Downtown will be a safe welcoming environment for all visitors at all times of day. One aspect was defining downtown.

People placed dots on their preferences. The majority of dots were in favor of integrating plantings, planting trees downtown, incorporating sidewalk amenities such as benches, trash bins, cafe seating, using plants for aesthetics and environmental function. Paving should be unique. People were also interested in keeping the same amount of parking and wanted unique street lights put in downtown. They also feel that downtown should attract as many visitors as possible.

“We had a good turnout for the open house,’’ said Protzman of JEO. “This gives ideas to pull into team meetings. We incorporate ideas, look at ideas vs. the budget. We try to figure out what the council can do.’’


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