The city of St. Cloud will embark on a $3.7 million reconstruction of New York Avenue this year as the first phase of an ambitious redevelopment effort of the downtown core.
Planning and Zoning Director Andre Anderson told GrowthSpotter the project was already in development when the city launched its visioning project last year. The input from GAI's Community Solutions Group consulting team helped refine the design and make it top priority.
"We wrapped the Envision process in October and took it to the planning commission," Anderson said. "They recommended approval. We're taking the final report to the City Council on Jan. 11."
Once it's ratified, the 88-page master plan won't become a part of the city's comprehensive plan, but it will provide guidance and direction for the council and city staff.
The consultants strongly advised against an earlier proposal to rebuild New York and Pennsylvania avenues as one-way streets.
"One-way streets force people out of direction," the report says. "Visitors to downtown need a clear and legible way around. We want people to get out of their car and be able to walk to any and all of their downtown destinations safely and comfortably."
They recommended utilizing a design that had already proven successful in revitalizing downtown Sanford, where the sidewalk was widened and diagonal parking is replaced with parallel parking and grade-level street trees. Raised curbs are eliminated in favor of a flush condition.
"The streetscape discussion coincided with the project that was already underway, so it was perfect timing," Anderson said.
By widening the sidewalks, the city can create "parklets" to accommodate outdoor dining areas. Making the street more narrow and adding parallel parking are also proven traffic calming devices.
"It's more pedestrian-focused," Anderson said. "We're going to utilize removable bollards to make it easier to close streets for festivals, parades and events, like Rockin' the Cloud. We won't have to use huge concrete barricades."
"Centennial Park is still a part of the plan, but the streetscape is our top priority," Grants Administrator Charlene Kuhn said.
A reason for the shifting priorities is what's happening underground. Rebuilding the street allows the city to replace the undersized water and sewer lines downtown and improve drainage. The existing two-inch water lines are too small to provide fire protection or to serve high-density housing.
"If your infrastructure is inadequate, you don't get good redevelopment," Anderson said. "We want to encourage more residential uses downtown and more restaurants downtown, but you can't get that without the water and sewer lines to serve that new development."
Anderson said he has had meetings with several developers who are interested in investing in downtown St. Cloud, but plans for a 15-story mixed-use tower on city-owned land behind the historic St. Cloud Hotel never came to fruition.
ADMC, the developer who owns that hotel and recently renovated the Hunter Arms Hotel, defaulted on his 2016 developer agreement with the city. ADMC was supposed to have delivered architectural plans for a downtown parking garage in exchange for the city-owned lot.
"That agreement no longer exists," Anderson said. "He missed the deadline."
Kuhn said the city will seek a legislative appropriation in the state budget this session to help fund the project, but that's just one of multiple funding sources. The city also plans to use CRA funds, road impact and stormwater fees and federal block grants to finance the project.
"We hope to get the legislative appropriation this year, but we're going to move forward with the project if we don't," she said. "We have other resources we can tap."
The downtown vision was only one element of the Envision plan. The consultants recommended changes for the city's Lakeview Park, which they felt lacked shade, seating and other embellishments. The new conceptual plan replaces a large section of the beach with an event lawn boarded by shaded pavilions. There's also a larger marina, a sidewalk cafe and sport courts. The splash pad would be relocated and the parking lots would be reconfigured.
"The idea behind that vision was that the park today is busy, but it didn't really have a sense of arrival," Anderson said. "It feels more like a series of little events. We wanted to create a sense of place, like you have a Kissimmee Lakefront Park. The event lawn also makes it more flexible and usable. Every time we've shown it to someone, they love it."