Ugly duckling will become a swan
I gave some out-of-town visitors a tour of Blue Earth one day last week.
It is not the first time I have done that. It is always interesting to do, because it gives me a chance to once again look at the city through the eyes of someone who has not seen it before.
There are lots of positives to point out. The school, the hospital, St. Luke’s, the industries, the parks and pool and our gorgeous county courthouse.
There is also the nice, relatively new county law enforcement center, fitness center, Golden Spike Business Park, Public Safety Center and a whole lot more.
But when we got to downtown, I had to say it.
“It may not be the nicest looking downtown in Minnesota,” I told the group on my tour of Blue Earth. “But, it’s gonna be.”
I truly mean that.
But, I quickly added, before it gets better, it’s going to get worse.
Let’s face it, it is pretty bad now.
With the awnings all removed there are some rough looking buildings. A few businesses have started to construct new fronts on their buildings, but a lot of that is just some lumber nailed up for now.
Then there is the open pit where Andy’s Oriental Cafe once was, with warning barricades all around it.
There are some exposed old brick walls where adjoining buildings once stood.
All in all, not a very attractive sight.
And then there are the ‘Three Sisters’ buildings.
They have that ‘boarded up’ and abandoned look that just isn’t what you want in a downtown area. Especially one that we are working so hard to revitalize.
I’m thinking that perhaps we should start calling them the “Three Ugly Step-Sisters.” But don’t get me started on that whole issue again.
Suffice it to say, downtown just ain’t pretty.
And when the heavy equipment and work crews move in and rip the heck out of three central blocks of downtown, it is going to get worse, a lot worse.
But, just like the tale of the Ugly Duckling, I think downtown Blue Earth is going to be reborn and transformed into a beautiful swan.
By the end of summer, those three blocks will have new pavement, sidewalks, and some interesting aesthetic features, such as those controversial bumpouts, planters, colored paver bricks, real nice crosswalks, cool new street lights, and much, much more.
Many of the business owners have plans for fixing up their buildings and a few have already started. There will be new attractive awnings, signs, walls and other special features. The city and the EDA have made loans and grants available to business owners to do many projects to their buildings, and I applaud them for doing that.
The Blue Earth Community Foundation, which worked on getting a grant for a mural downtown, now has plans for putting in an attractive butterfly/rain garden park in one of the corner vacant lots in downtown at Sixth and Main.
The city is making plans for turning another vacant area, the old Avalon Center space, into an off-street parking lot.
It is going to be very exciting to see how downtown Blue Earth looks one year from now.
I can feel the excitement from others, as well. In fact, there is an astounding thing happening right now. At least four downtown buildings are suddenly getting filled with new businesses.
That is correct. With full knowledge that these blocks will be torn up all summer, some people have so much faith in what downtown Blue Earth will soon look like, they are already moving new businesses into available spaces.
Some folks figured just the opposite would happen businesses would be moving out, or, dare I say it, even closing up. This downtown renovation work would cause the downtown to have more empty buildings, they thought.
Instead, the exact opposite is true and businesses are moving in, not out.
Now, if Cinderella could just do something with those Three Ugly Step-Sisters.
And, there is even hope for something happening on this issue soon, too. It is possible the city could wind up with ownership of those structures.
If it happens, that could complete the transformation of downtown turning into the beautiful swan.
I hope I get those out-of-town visitors back for a return visit again, sometime in the future, so I can give them the tour of the brand new, beautiful, downtown Blue Earth.