Should city fix Broadway now or later?

Published 1:33 pm Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Albert Lea residents shared mixed opinions Monday on how to proceed with the Broadway reconstruction and streetscape project after hearing that the project came in $495,000 over the estimate.

Adele Helleckson

Adele Helleckson

While some said they favored moving ahead with the entire project despite the higher estimated cost, others asked the Albert Lea City Council to reconsider moving forward.

“At this point in time it’s going to be a hardship, not a benefit,” said Adele Helleksen, owner of Albert Lea Tailors. “To ask people to pay for it right now when they can hardly get by seems a little much.”

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Higher than estimated costs came in for the Fountain Lake Park improvements, the street and plaza streetscape elements, and the street lighting and electrical systems.

The low bid, from BCM Construction Inc. of Faribault, also included higher costs for mobilization, or when a contractor sets up and takes down for a project.

The bids came in last week.

Hellekson said she is at a point where she is struggling both in her personal life and her business.

She said she is also concerned with the effect the work will have on the historical buildings and how much time downtown businesses will be affected.

Gladys Roberts, owner of 119 S. Broadway, said she is in favor of repairing the basic street but not adding in all of the extra amenities.

“I hope some of you rethink some of this,” Roberts said.

According to city officials, the engineer’s estimate for the entire project was $4.1 million, including street and utilities reconstruction, sidewalk replacement and the replacement of the street lighting and other amenities. It also included the redesign of Fountain Lake Park, turning it into a grand staircase that can double as seating for events.

Chad Adams

Chad Adams

The project, which had been slated to begin in May, is being ordered primarily to replace aging underground infrastructure, but there has been controversy about how many extra amenities to include above ground.

The low bid included a base bid of $3.77 million for everything from the street work, sewer and water replacement, sidewalk replacement, street lighting, decorative pavers and basic plazas on William Street and Water Street.

To enhance the two plazas with additional pavers it would be an additional $48,921 for William Street and $37,029 for Water Street.

The Fountain Lake Park part of the project came in at $438,089, about $159,000 higher than the engineer’s estimate.

Adding in the engineer’s fee of $305,000, the total cost for the project came in at $4.59 million.

Up to this point, the project had been slated to be paid for through state bonding funds, assessments to downtown businesses, the sewer and water fund and with city bonding.

City Manager Chad Adams said if the city bonded for $1.275 million, a $100,000 home would be charged $11.70 a year for 10 years, and a $100,000 business would be charged $18.20 a year. This is up from the initially proposed $9 a year for a $100,000 home and $14 a year for a $100,000 business.

There are also options of using 2012 surplus funds to cover the difference or dipping into the general fund reserve, Adams said.

Albert Lea-Freeborn County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Randy Kehr, who was on the steering committee that helped design the project, said he would support paying an additional tax to restore the downtown.

“We need to do something at the heart of the city and this seems to be it,” added resident Tony Trow. “Whatever it takes, I think we ought to step up to the plate and do it.”

Linda Knutson, co-owner of Plymouth Shoes, 129 S. Broadway, said she and her husband remain in favor of the complete project and noted the work she is doing to remodel her building.

Tom Staker, co-owner of Celebrations Party & Gifts, said though he will essentially be taxed twice for the project — both as a business owner and as a resident — he, too, is favor of the entire project.

Others pointed out the value of having low interest rates.

“Bonding is never going to get cheaper,” resident Karen Trow said.

Albert Lea resident Rich Murray, who is the owner of ISC Financial Advisers, said 30 years ago when he first moved to town, he can remember people asking when something was going to be done about the downtown.

He said he is in favor of the project so much that he bought a building downtown last year and is ready to make major improvements to the building.

He said while he sympathizes with the business owners who are struggling right now, he believes the project would help businesses grow.

“We’re making some great strides on things we’re working for in the community,” said Murray.

The council voted to table a decision about the bids until its next meeting April 22.

The councilors asked for continued feedback about the project.

“I’m mixed, and I need to hear from you,” said 1st Ward Councilor John Schulte V.