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The clock is ticking on Main Street

By Staff | Sep 27, 2015

Dale Carnegie once wrote a book titled “How to win friends and influence people.”

My column this week probably is going to do neither of those two things.

Last Monday’s Blue Earth City Council meeting was a very busy one. The council talked about at least a dozen different topics, including next year’s property tax hike, allowing golf carts on the streets and a squabble between neighbors about a fence on a property line.

But of course, the big topic was once again what type of parking diagonal or parallel to have in a two-block area of downtown Blue Earth.

A group of business owners in the affected area were at the meeting requesting it be left as it is now, with diagonal parking on both sides of the street. Ironically, before the business owners had arrived at the meeting, the council had learned that the county engineer had said he would not sign off on a design that had just that diagonal parking on both sides.

That, despite the fact the state had surprisingly granted a variance to the city of Blue Earth so that diagonal parking on both sides of the street could be an option.

Now, the County Commissioners will be holding a special meeting this Tuesday morning, to discuss this exact issue with their engineer and with members of the City Council present.

It will be interesting to see how this turns out.

Several downtown business and building owners are none too happy with some past columns I have written and have the idea that I am anti-diagonal parking. That is not entirely true.

I am not against it. I am just not for it.

Let me explain quickly, before you grab those buckets of tar.

I understand the need for parking, to give our customers a place to park as they come into our business place. Yes, we have that same desire here at the Register. A newspaper is, first and foremost, a business. Like any other business we have a lot of bills to pay, and need to have an income to pay those bills.

What I am a proponent of, however, is using this opportunity to make these two downtown blocks as attractive as possible. So, I am a proponent of sidewalks and streetscape features (things like bump outs at the corners, decorative sidewalks and cross walks, etc.) and of greenscape (putting in trees and bushes and other types of foliage.)

But, somehow, all of that type of planning is getting lost in the shuffle and in the desire to have diagonal parking on both sides of the street – at all costs.

And, now, we have the added element of the clock ticking on this project.

Suddenly, the council has to make some quick decisions on the type of parking and if any type of design elements will be used in the plans. That is because those decisions need to be made right now, in order to get the project underway as early next summer as possible.

That is a good thing. Nobody wants this to drag out any longer than necessary. And nobody wants it to last more than one summer construction period. It is going to be traumatic enough for those of us in the construction area.

But, because of the fact time is running out, it seems any type of planning for streetscape and greenscape is getting left behind. And soon it will be too late.

Some of the downtown business owners have said they don’t care about any streetscape ideas or planting any greenscape. And, they said again at last Monday’s meeting that they also don’t really care about sidewalks and will be happy if they are kept as narrow as possible.

Fewer snow removal issues, it seems. Shoveling off a four-foot wide sidewalk is a lot easier than shoveling off a 12-foot wide one.

The sidewalks are currently 11-feet wide, in case you are wondering. State standards call for them to be a minimum of 12-feet wide. Diagonal parking on both sides will make them be a lot less than that, 8 1/2 feet.

And that means less space to do anything but have a walkway.

A sub-committee of the City Council was formed to look into possible streetscaping ideas. Unfortunately, it has not met in a long, long time.

If it doesn’t meet soon, it will be too late. And then I promise to quit writing about this and devote this space to some other topic

So by the end of next summer, we should have brand new sidewalks and paved street surface in the two blocks of Main Street between Fifth and Seventh.

There will definitely be parking on those two blocks. We just don’t know what kind yet.

And maybe, just maybe, there will some other attractive streetscape items incorporated into the new look of these two downtown blocks.

I hope so. But, I fully realize not everyone else does.

Perhaps I better go look up that old copy of Dale Carnegie’s book I have stashed away somewhere.