Devils Lake gets close to rolling out downtown project
DEVILS LAKE -- After months of planning, talks with property owners and public input meetings the city of Devils Lake soon is expected to take the next giant step toward building a brand-new look for its downtown.
DEVILS LAKE - After months of planning, talks with property owners and public input meetings the city of Devils Lake soon is expected to take the next giant step toward building a brand-new look for its downtown.
City Engineer Mike Grafsgaard said the City Commission will review plans May 7 for the $6.4 million infrastructure and streetscape project and likely will move forward by advertising for bids. Construction could begin as early as late July.
Grafsgaard said the majority of the project will be paid for through the Department of Transportation, and the local share is estimated to be only $1.6 million.
Some people have voiced concerns over the amount of final parking space and business access during construction, but Grafsgaard said the project largely has received overwhelming support.
"I think when you do a project of this magnitude you normally would have a section that would be in favor of the project, another that's against the project and then, a lot of times, the silent majority that doesn't express interest one way or another," he said. "But based on the number of people who attended our public input meetings, I was very much surprised by the level of interest and the support."
The city also sent out probable special assessment levels, but property owners of only 2.7 percent of the improvement district protested the project. More than 50 percent would have been needed to halt the project.
Grafsgaard acknowledged there will be some disruption to parking and business access during the course of the construction season but said the city will make all efforts to ensure people can reach the businesses.
"We will do our best to make sure there is access to all businesses at all times," he said. "It just might not be as convenient. There will be sidewalks that are removed. There will be gravel and one-way streets. But once it's complete, you'll have a nice sidewalk out front, some nice plantings and a very updated roadway. The improvements will be very beneficial to our downtown area."
Besides new streets and sidewalks, highlights of the plan include larger bulb-outs at intersection corners with trees and light landscaping as well as special corner-parking access for people with disabilities. The bulb-outs give pedestrians added protection in the crosswalks, which also will be marked with colored concrete.
Grafsgaard said the sidewalks will have bands of colored, stamped concrete and also include streetscape features such as iron benches, garbage receptacles and decorative bike racks. The plans call for three different levels of improvements, with the intersection of Fourth Avenue Northeast and Fourth Street Northeast being the main attraction. That area also will include decorative brick monuments with tile inlays etched with historic images. Though planners will stick to a local theme, the images must be transportation-related to meet federal grant requirements.
Light posts also will be refurbished, and new banners will be added.
"I'm really excited to see what the end result is," said downtown business owner Kelly Swenseth, who has been active with the project steering committee. "Our goal is for the downtown to be a shopping destination."
She says surveys already have ranked the city high on the walkability scale, and she believes the upgrades will attract more boutiques and specialty shops, making more people want to mosey.
"With Amazon and Target, yeah, you have access to some of the basics," she said. "But it would be nice to go somewhere where you can touch, hold, feel and grab something for that last-minute gift."
Neither Swenseth nor property owner Lucas Wakefield feels the small decrease in the number of right-out-front parking spots will be an issue.
"We have plenty of parking lots in our downtown, but they're just not something people are in the habit of using," Swenseth said.
"I think the trend the past 10 years or so has been you go downtown to go directly to the exact place you want to be and then you leave again," Wakefield said. "We want to change that and make it a place where you want to spend some time."