Progress is made on Vitality CenterPublished 6:19am Sunday, April 8, 2012
This past summer, the Albert Lea City Council and city staff conducted a goal-setting retreat and identified the “revitalization of downtown” as one of the top priorities for the next 18 months. As we look back over the last nine months, we are seeing a lot of progress toward achieving that goal. We have been fortunate to receive a lot of involvement and support from the community in pursuit of a revitalized downtown.
One example of progress is the Broadway Avenue streetscape project. The city has hired Bolton & Menk to provide the preliminary and final design of the project, which is expected to be completed late this fall, with bidding of the project to occur over the winter, and construction from Main Street to Fountain Lake Park to commence in spring 2013.
The recently appointed steering committee to the project will provide one element of public involvement for the streetscape design.
Public informational meetings beginning this spring and individual meetings with business owners this summer will also be critical phases of receiving stakeholder input. We received strong interest in the steering committee, and we thank those individuals for providing the commitment to serve on the committee.
The streetscape project has also received support from the state of Minnesota through an award of $1 million in last year’s bonding bill. While we await some policy language revisions related to that award in this year’s bonding bill, the allocation demonstrates the regional significance of the project and its signature status for the community.
Ultimately, the state’s funding will reduce the cost burden in the city’s local taxpayer share of the project, as well as business owner assessments.
We continue to have interest in our Broadway facade grant program as well. The city has approved three grant applications and two more are pending. We are expecting all of the work to advance this year, which will preserve and enhance the historic character of those buildings. Most of the matching awards will be in the $25,000 to $50,000 range, which require an easement to ensure the historic integrity of the improvement. However, business owners in the historic preservation district are also eligible for smaller matching grants up to $2,500 without the easement requirement.
The city’s recent approval of a lease agreement to Albert Lea Community Theatre for operations of the Marion Ross Performing Arts Center is also an asset that is expected to bring more events and activities to the downtown.
We commend ACT for partnering with the city and for having the vision and commitment to utilize the facility to a fuller capacity.
In coming months, the city is planning to open the doors to the Vitality Center to the public. While details continue to be worked out, the use could range from a minimum of conducting community courses and programs in the facility to leasing a portion of the facility to a tenant for a compatible business use. Securing a shared user could make the facility available to the public on nearly a daily basis with free public Wi-Fi being an amenity to visitors. The Vitality Leadership team has been helpful in providing insight and bringing potential use to the facility.
As we work on the Vitality Center building, we have been discussing options and a process to solicit a user for the Freeborn Bank Building.
ALEDA staff has been working in tandem with the city to find the best fit for the building and community. We are expecting to reach some consensus on an action plan over the next few months as well.
I also thank the Downtown Association for its continued commitment and service to enhancing the downtown. Its members have coordinated a number of successful events and activities these past several years and look to build on those successes in 2012 with some additional events.
The Albert Lea Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Albert Lea-Freeborn County Chamber of Commerce have been great partners in supporting and advocating for these events for the community.
Chad Adams is the city manager of Albert Lea.