St. Cloud City Manager Joe Helfenberger said the city is seeking millions in state funds to launch an ambitious downtown redevelopment that includes new infrastructure and the first phase of Centennial Park.
Helfenberger said the city wants to convert two of its main historic brick streets -- New York and Pennsylvania avenues between for three blocks -- into one-way streets and rebuild them with new water mains and stormwater lines and landscaping.
"Believe it or not, we've got some two-inch water main we've got to replace so we can put out fires downtown," Helfenberger told GrowthSpotter on Monday. The water main would be upgraded to an eight-inch line.
The project would extend from 13th Street (U.S. 192) to 10th Street and would include new sidewalks, landscaping and energy efficient LED streetlights. Helfenberger said the estimated cost for Phase 1 is almost $6 million, with half being requested from the state.
"We're looking for some Community Development Block Grant funding, we have a request for a special appropriation through state legislature," Helfenberger said. "For lighting, we'd be working with OUC."
The second phase would duplicate the streetscape on the same three blocks of Massachusetts and Florida avenues.
The design calls for a uniform historic brick throughout downtown, with a lighter brick at the intersections. "In order to have this done well, we have to put about an eight-inch concrete base underneath the brick," he said. "We'd probably have to put the water mains under the sidewalks."
Helfenberger said the City Council has yet to formally adopt the street design and conversion to one-way streets. Each council member sits on the city's Community Redevelopment Agency, which has endorsed the plan.
"We will have to come back to Council and confirm this is indeed how we want to proceed," he said. "If we do go to one-way, New York has to be going from north to south because of the traffic light configuration, so a vehicle can make a left turn onto Highway 192."
Helfenberger said the city is also seeking $1 million from the state legislature to kick-start the first phase of its downtown Centennial Park project. The park design comprises a full city block, but the city has broken it down into two phases with the eastern half scheduled first.
"That helps make it a more manageable project," he said.
Phase 1 includes a water feature, possibly a splash park, surrounded by brick pavers, a performance stage, parking and an arched entry. The estimated budget is $4.2 million, and Helfenberger said the city would contribute $1.7 million in CRA funds and $900,000 in park impact fees. That leaves a $650,000 shortfall, which the city hopes to fund through grants.
He said the western half of the park, which would include a welcome center in the historic train depot building, would be initiated after the city reaches a deal with the current owner, VFW Post 3227, to sell or swap the property.
"One thing to note is that the historic train depot will be 100 years old this year," he said.
Helfenberger said the city would likely engage a professional fund raising firm, such as Convergent, to assist in raising capital for Phase 2. "They have a very high success rate," he said.
The international construction company headed by Albert Leka purchased two historic hotels on New York Avenue and is renovating both. Leka originally planned to convert the St. Cloud Hotel into apartments or condos, but he recently decided to keep the building as a functioning, three-star hotel with an Italian restaurant, a coffee shop and spa.
"We're very excited about that," Helfenberger said. "That means there will be 89 hotel (rooms) in the downtown between those two projects."
Leka told St. Cloud Chamber of Commerce members last week he expects to reopen the St. Cloud Hotel by September. He has already painted the Hunter Arms Hotel and added architectural details, such as window shutters, casings and planters to enhance the building's exterior.
"He's going full steam ahead," Helbenberger said. "We're delighted to see the improvements in the downtown."