City of Shakopee | Re-Imagining Downtown
By: the City of Shakopee, www.shakopeemn.gov
A downtown is an important part of a community’s identity, and it’s one reason Shakopee city leaders want to make Shakopee’s downtown more of a destination.
“I heard someone say recently that you have to love your downtown before others will. I think that’s what we are trying to do here. Put some love into our downtown,” said Shakopee Economic Development Coordinator Samantha DiMaggio.
Shakopee’s downtown has a long, proud history of business development. The area currently has the community’s highest concentration of independent business owners and continues to be a vibrant tax base.
“These businesses built Shakopee,” DiMaggio said. “When it comes to development, everybody takes their turn, and now the time has come for us to invest in downtown.”
In May, the city hired Loucks Inc. to create an implementation plan that would provide the city with actionable steps for enhancing the visibility and vitality of downtown Shakopee by:
- Creating a mix of streets and open space
- Balancing pedestrian and traffic needs
- Employing sustainable design strategies
- Adding streetscape amenities
Loucks consultants looked at previous studies and spent several weeks in the downtown, talking with business owners, residents and patrons. They wanted to get an idea of how the area is currently used and how it could be used in the future, DiMaggio said.
What they discovered was a need to create more destination spaces where people can gather and meet.
For example, thousands of out-of-town guests come to Shakopee’s downtown every year to attend weddings and other events at Turtle’s Social Centre. Yet, there’s no real outdoor space for them to congregate. The implementation plan includes plazas where people can sit on a nice day or explore public art.
Downtowns are the heart of any community, to the point that communities without downtowns have invested millions in building new ones, said Michael Kerski, the city’s director of planning and development.
“Typically downtown is where a sense of community starts, grows and stays,” DiMaggio said. “That’s a hard thing to create, that sense of community.”
In October, Kerski presented the implementation plan to the City Council, highlighting three projects: River City Plaza, Gateway Plaza and the Lewis Street parking lot. The two plazas would provide welcoming entrances to downtown, featuring art that celebrates Shakopee’s history.
The Lewis Street lot would demonstrate how to grow urban trees. The lot’s pavement is crumbling and in current need of repair.
The city has approximately $1.5 million set aside for downtown improvements. While that figure does not cover all the proposed projects, the city wants to use the money toward projects that will have the biggest impact. DiMaggio is hopeful the projects may spark future improvements through business partnerships.
In addition to downtown improvements, the city is also studying ways to better leverage its riverfront, like the communities of Stillwater and Red Wing. DiMaggio said many visitors do not know the Minnesota River runs near downtown because they must cross Highway 101 to reach Huber Park or go through the underpass to the Minnesota Valley State Trail.
“We have a really huge natural feature that no one can really access,” Kerski said.
Enhancing the riverfront starts with stabilizing the eroding river bank. Last winter, the City Council identified riverbank stabilization as one of its goals on the 2016 Work Plan. However, stabilization does not come cheap. In fact, the city postponed the second phase of Huber Park development because it cost upward of $2 million.
However, the city recently reached out to the Scott Soil and Water Conservation District to study the erosion and create a plan for stabilization. Once the report is completed, city leaders will discuss how they would like to proceed.
MAIN STREET SHAKOPEE
Developing a downtown destination takes more than just infrastructure. It is also important the area attracts unique businesses, including restaurants, retailers and attractions, Kerksi said.
Kerski points to Greenville, S.C., where he previously worked, as an example of a community that reinvigorated its downtown. In 1990, the community built a performing arts center to increase visitors. It has also an active art walk that brings people downtown year round to view more than 40 pieces of original art.
“A downtown redeveloped around authenticity can become an attraction for the region,” Kerski said. “For example, Greenville embraced its river and other attractions have built around it.”
In October, Main Street Shakopee hired a new coordinator, Elliot Johnson, to assist the business side of downtown.
“I look forward to working with Shakopee businesses and Main Street to continue growing this vibrant community for many years to come,” Johnson said.