Cars, move aside: This one's for walkers.
Downtown Stillwater, long a place where vehicle traffic rules the asphalt from Main Street to the riverfront Lowell Park, will have a new look by mid-summer.
Work begins soon on the city's new "pedestrian walkway" plaza that will bring a splash of green to roads and parking lots. The plaza will feature trees, picnic tables, colored pavers, a pergola, an entrance kiosk, a bicycle rack and a public restroom.
The restroom building, no small matter in a 19th century downtown now full of tourists most of the year, will relieve business owners of constant inquiries from desperate pedestrians.
But in the bigger picture, the plaza creates a concourse for pedestrians to stroll from Main Street two blocks to the St. Croix River without having to dodge cars in crowded parking lots.
"We think it will help bring visitors to North Main Street," City Planner Mike Pogge said. "We're getting very good comments. People are really happy with what the final design looked like."
Work on the plaza, to cost $569,000, begins in mid-April. Construction of the restroom building, which includes a designated "family" bathroom, begins this week. That will cost $297,700.
The final design of the plaza was determined after the city held public meetings to hear what residents thought of the plan. An earlier design proposed extending the plaza a block farther west on Commercial Street to the city's new parking garage, but business owners said suppliers would have difficulty getting to their stores, Pogge said.
The plaza will run perpendicular to Main and Water streets, accomplishing a longtime desire to help pedestrians navigate to the riverfront. The east end of the plaza, nearest the river, will connect to a new amphitheater in Lowell Park and to a bicycle trail along the river.
Delayed construction of a flood wall, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project, also will postpone construction of the amphitheater. The city now hopes for flood wall work in August, but "to accommodate the biking community" planners must decide soon how to proceed if that doesn't begin as expected, he said.
The bicycle trail will connect with the new Browns Creek State Trail, which will begin at the old Minnesota Zephyr dinner train depot to the north. Construction will begin on that 5.6-mile corridor, the old route that the train followed, after rails are removed this spring. The riverfront trail also would connect with a new trail over the Stillwater Lift Bridge if a new bridge is built in neighboring Oak Park Heights, as envisioned.
Kathleen Eddy, manager of Valley Bookseller next door to where the plaza will be built, said she foresees a revival of businesses as a result. New tenants could move into empty storefronts along Main Street, she said.
"I think it will help the locals to come downtown more often," Eddy said. "We're anticipating it will bring more foot traffic to the store, which is always welcome."
Pogge echoed that comment. The plaza will make the north end of downtown more attractive to prospective business owners, he said, with hardly any losses in parking. Some parking will be limited during construction, however, he said.
Money for the project comes from the city's capital improvement budget and tax increment financing funds, Pogge said. The work should be finished by July 4, he said.
Details about the plaza project, including architectural renderings, are available at www.startribune.com/a1120.
Kevin Giles • 651-925-5037 Twitter: @stribgiles