Mitchell Main Street & Beyond charts futureDesigners solicit thoughts of community members at public meetings.
By: Tom Lawrence, The Daily Republic
The future of an improved downtown Mitchell was under discussion Tuesday, as Mitchell Main Street & Beyond held four meetings to gather input and consider options.
MMS&B and representatives from designArc architecture + design LLC, a Brookings firm, met with downtown business owners, employees and members of the public Tuesday afternoon in the second of the four meetings held in the lower level of the Midtown Mall.
MMS&B board members met in the morning, and city officials met with the group later. The Mitchell Historic Preservation Commission held the final meeting.
During the public input gathering, Les Rowland, the owner of designArc and an architect himself, said the point of the meeting was to review an online survey, and listen and learn. About 20 people attended.
“This design is for you,” Rowland said. “It’s going to take you as a group to promote this and make it happen.”
MMS&B hired the Brookings-based team in July to provide “an innovative, comprehensive streetscape and landscape plan” for Main Street. The goal is to create a strategic plan to convert downtown into an inviting and user-friendly environment. The project is proposed from The Depot restaurant to the Corn Palace on Main Street, and from Sanborn Boulevard to Kimball Street on First Avenue.
Two designArc staffers, Lynda Pierce, a designer, and Jon Meendering, an associate architect, and Patri Acevedo-Riker, an architect and historic preservation consultant with AcV2 of Rapid City, explained what they had learned, what they were working on and fielded questions from the people who attended the meeting.
“This is going to be information-gathering,” Pierce said.
Pierce revealed the results of an online survey on downtown. When people were asked to use one word to describe the best possible downtown Mitchell, answers included inviting, clean, vibrant, historic, thriving, unique, community, fun, artistic and Corn Palace.
When asked about two or three features that were needed, the overwhelming leader was landscaping/green space, followed by benches and gathering spaces, which Pierce said “go hand-in-hand.” They drew 75 percent of the response. The other 25 percent was promoting the area’s historic identity, which she said was “amazing.”
Acevedo-Riker said she has been cataloging historical buildings and items of interest downtown, and will offer suggestions on how to preserve and improve them. She said of the 96 buildings in the downtown area, 72 are considered to have historic aspects. They could qualify for tax incentives and other benefits.
The online study offered other bits of information.
Shopping, tourism and dining are the three main reasons people come downtown.
The old bank building, the Corn Palace, the Ben Franklin building, The Depot, the Medical Arts Buildings and other structures were named as favorite downtown buildings. The online survey is another tool to help guide the effort to boost Mitchell’s downtown, which has struggled to fill all buildings and keep its existing businesses thriving.
“Anything is possible at this point,” Pierce said. “We’re looking for your input. Let’s go to the stars, basically, and we’ll work our way back to what’s possible, what you guys are looking for and how much you can spend.”
MMS&B Executive Director Molly Goldsmith said no money has been allocated for the project. MMS&B paid for the study, and more will follow, before any work is done in the downtown area.
“We can’t commit money to a project that doesn’t exist yet,” she said.
“I guess I’m not that patient,” Mitchell resident Tara Volesky said. “I’d just like to see some action.”
Andy Jerke, of James Valley Nursery, said more must be done than simply making downtown more attractive.
“Just redoing Main Street will do us no good, because there’s no reason to be there,” Jerke said. “There has to be a reason to be here.
“We have to find a way to bring people down here,” he said. “As local citizens, we’re not going to visit the Corn Palace every day. Tourists will, but we won’t.”
Carrie English, of Mitchell, the former MMS&B executive director and chairwoman of the Mitchell Historic Preservation Commission, said perception is a problem. Many people see downtown as “dry, barren and hot. There’s nothing living. I don’t want to be someplace where there’s nothing living.”
Pierce said the input was helpful.
“I think you guys know what you want, it’s just, how do we get there?” she said.
Acevedo-Riker said Rapid City started small, with some streetscaping, additional garbage cans and other improvements. Soon, the area bloomed, and it has become a thriving area.
“There’s not a single empty storefront,” she said.
Brookings has also benefited from its downtown redesign.
“We have seen vacant buildings become occupied,” Pierce said. “I think it’s helped quite a bit.”
Communities that have worked to revitalize downtown areas and can serve as role models for Mitchell are Rapid City, Omaha, Milwaukee and Minneapolis, people said. But it’s important for Mitchell to find its own answers.
“It’s finding what’s at the core of Mitchell to have an impact,” Meendering said.
Volesky urged MMS&B to emulate Rapid City, which revitalized its slumping downtown with a public square.
“We’ve got a head start on Rapid City, since we’re drawing over 200,000 people to see the Corn Palace,” Volesky said. She said Mitchell is also a “hub city” for surrounding communities.
The 2012 mayoral candidate once more pitched her idea for an ice-skating rink/outdoor stage with fountains, similar to the one Rapid City built. Mitchell should also model Brookings, which redid its downtown core in large part by using city staff and services, Volesky said.
She said the $6.2 million proposed to be spent to revitalize the Corn Palace should be invested elsewhere.
“I think that’s a waste of money,” Volesky said. “I think that money should be spent on Main Street and outside of the Corn Palace.”
She said she favors spending $1 million for new seats in the Corn Palace, and the remainder put into the streetscape project.
Goldsmith said the Corn Palace money has already been allocated for other projects, but Volesky said no final plans have been put into place. That money could provide a boost for the streetscaping.
Bob Schoenfelder, downtown business owner of Mitchell, asked about adding parking to make the area more inviting to people, especially elderly people who don’t want to walk a block or two to a business.
Most people at the meeting said there is enough parking in downtown, but with more people living there, and a goal of bringing more people to the area, more parking will be needed.
Some business owners and employees said there has long been a problem with downtown residents taking up parking spaces, which prevents possible customers from using the spots. That hurts businesses. That needs to be resolved, they said, and there are ongoing efforts to do just that.
Pierce said parking options are under review. There was some discussion on converting to diagonal parking as opposed to the current curbside parking.
Pierce said Mitchell’s Main Street is wide, which offers a lot of options. It has the design firm “excited,” she said.
A two-story parking ramp was discussed, but Rowland said it’s cheaper to buy land for a parking lot than to erect such a building. There is also some concern that people may not want to pay for parking.
Rowland said his firm will have a vision completed by February, with designs and proposals to be presented. That will be the next step in a long road to completing this revitalization effort, Goldsmith said.
The team for the Mitchell streetscape planning process is comprised of representatives from South Dakota including designArc, of Brookings, James Valley Nursery, of Mitchell, AcV2, of Rapid City, Civil Design Inc., of Brookings, and Roby Quintal Everson Engineers, of Mitchell.
For more information go to www.mitchellmainstreet.com or call Goldsmith at 990-4500.