Ideas wanted on enhancing downtown Waconia

Waconia may be a growing city but there are still plenty of characteristics that give Waconia its small town charm. One prominent example of this is the city’s downtown. From the marquee lights of the movie theater to the many businesses and restaurants, Waconia’s downtown is an exciting, special place.
In recent months, a group of business owners and/or residents dubbed the Downtown Task Force have begun work on creating a downtown redevelopment plan to ensure the continued success of Waconia’s downtown.
As part of the effort, the task force is holding a community open house to give citizens a chance to meet with city and design staff, share ideas and feedback, and help shape the future of downtown. The open house will be held in the council chambers at Waconia City Hall at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, April 2.
All citizens are welcome to attend and give their two cents on “Redefining Waconia.” The event is the second major event for the 18-member task force, which held its kickoff meeting on Thursday, Feb. 28. At the city council meeting held on March 4, Mayor Jim Nash said the kickoff meeting “went really, really well.”
“A lot of good energy from people who are bringing ideas to the table so as we move towards that project kicking off, we’ve got a lot in the tank,” he said. “Overall, we had a really good cross section of both people who just live in the community, those that both own a business and live in the community, and then business owners as well. I thought it was a really good mix.”
At the kickoff meeting, the task force members discussed many topics, including which elements best showcase downtown. The elements included downtown’s quaint feel and the mixture of building fronts. A few of the “sacred cows” of downtown included the movie theater, the gazebo in City Square Park, the old water tower, St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, the historic homes near downtown, and the many views of Lake Waconia.
Task force members listed some of the challenges they currently associate with downtown, such as parking and traffic issues, limited access from areas outside of downtown, narrow sidewalks, empty buildings, a lack of trees/shading, dim street lighting, and the absence of a grocery store.
In terms of what they would like to see downtown, task force members said more “this way to downtown” type signage on Highway 5, safer pedestrian access across Highway 5, bigger and/or more strategically placed parking lots, eye-catching public art, better bicycle access, something really unique to draw visitors (a jazz club, performing arts center, etc.), more mixed use development, and more benches and seating/gathering areas.
Other thoughts from task force members included looking at Excelsior and other cities as examples of successful ways to connect a downtown to a nearby lake, hiring a firm or other entity to actively recruit small, independent  brick and mortar businesses that would enhance and character of downtown, and focusing on improving the “walkability and bikeability” of downtown.

Contact Todd Moen at todd.moen@ecm-inc.com

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