Shakopee appears to have gotten a compass to help it chart a new course for its downtown: a recently completed study outlining the strong points as well as shortcomings of its historic central district.
The study, funded jointly by the city and the Scott County Community Development Agency, came about because city leaders wanted to know how the profiles of the east side of town and downtown could change after the project to reconstruct and expand the Hwy. 101 bridge is completed. Plans to expand sewer service to the east of the 101 corridor also could affect future development.
The study by Minneapolis-based Hoisington Koegler Group Inc. is based in part on discussions with city staff, civic leaders and area developers. There’s a wide variety of recommendations for downtown, including adding retail businesses and gathering places and improving walkability and signage. The study also recommended rehabbing housing in surrounding neighborhoods and adding new options, including multi-unit and senior housing downtown and live-work units west and south of the downtown commercial district.
After sifting through the findings last week, the City Council decided to get feedback from the Planning Commission, Economic Development Advisory Commission and Park and Recreation Advisory Board on which recommendations deserve the most attention.
Council Member Mike Luce said few efforts to boost commercial or residential development will succeed unless something is done about the ongoing problem of earsplitting train whistles. “If we don’t do something about the railroad, don’t even bother,” he said. “If we don’t stop those horns you’re not going to live down there.”
The study noted the city has discussed the problem with the railroad and suggested those conversations continue. It also said the city may have to weigh the costs of some possible noise-control measures.
The study said Shakopee’s downtown already has a foundation of anchoring uses, like its post office, county administration buildings and a sprinkling of restaurants, but it said there’s plenty of room for improvement.
One principal finding is that the merchant mix — which includes a bait and tackle shop, men’s clothing store and a handful of bars — is too male-oriented. “The business mix should become more diversified to attract a broader audience who will want to come to downtown, stay longer, frequent more than one business per visit,” the study said. Recommendations included more shops that would appeal to women, including service businesses such as a salon, as well as gift, book or antiques stores. Destination venues such as a brewpub were also recommended.
The study noted that many of the buildings downtown were built before World War II, and some are more than 100 years old. In many cases the land is more valuable than the structures, something that could help investors interested in acquiring them for redevelopment.
Council members agreed with the study that parking is a major problem that needs to be addressed. The study noted that parking proved to be stumbling block for the Command Center building on First Avenue and Spencer Street as a location for a brewpub and taproom. Some council members wondered if the city should consider building a parking ramp within walking distance of downtown.
Council Member Matt Lehman noted that many of the suggested improvements could call for public financing. He also said he was concerned that the addition of housing could result in “down-zoning” commercial property, reducing its value. “That’s going to create a hurdle for some of those plans,” he said.
The study didn’t specify how improvements could be financed but said options could include tax-increment financing, tax abatements, low-interest loans to business owners that invest in improving their properties and state grants.