ST. CLOUD — Mayor Dave Kleis this week publicly revealed plans for the city's $100 million state bonding request, listing dollar amounts for specific projects aimed at increasing walkability and spurring private development in the city's struggling downtown.
The proposal, which the Legislature is slated to consider next year, includes $35 million for six projects in the next two years and $65 million for at least eight projects in 2026-2027.
Kleis first revealed plans to reinvigorate downtown St. Cloud at a December summit and has since created a private-sector task force with three dozen members that's focused on using the bonding request to garner $1 billion in private development.
The projects proposed for next year's bonding session include a riverwalk on the Mississippi River just north of downtown with trails and a possible amphitheater ($8 million), improvements to the East St. Germain bridge to better connect the city's east side to the downtown core ($9 million), pedestrian safety improvements at downtown rail crossings ($5 million), and three $5 million projects to help better connect the downtown and Lake George, St. Cloud Hospital and St. Cloud State.
Kleis called these projects the "low-hanging fruit" because plans for some of them have been underway for several years and, if the city gets funding next spring, construction could start right away in 2024.
The second set of projects totaling $65 million includes moving public housing from the riverbank to another area to make way for private development, creating a public skyway system, expanding parking and upgrading walkability in the downtown's core.
The first six projects are more defined than the ones in subsequent years — but that gives the city more time to develop the 2026-2027 request and to prove to the Legislature that its initial investment, if approved, was worth it.
"If we said we're going to leverage private investment and we don't do that, then don't give us the $65 million," Kleis said.
Another strategy to breathe life into downtown and bring back foot traffic is adding housing, an approach that's been successful in several midsize cities across the country, including Fargo. Kleis has said his goal is to add 1,000 downtown housing units in the next five years.
The Legislature has approved similar requests from other regional cities, including Rochester — which got about $400 million from the state in 2013 for its Destination Medical Center initiative — and Duluth, which got $100 million a few years ago to support urban renewal in the downtown and medical district.
"In a perfect world, we'd just do it at the local level. But no city lives in a perfect world because there's no way our property taxpayers could absorb $100 million," Kleis said. "Not only that, the benefit goes beyond the property taxpayers. Having a healthy downtown St. Cloud benefits the entire city, it benefits the entire region and it benefits the entire state."
Council Member Jeff Goerger, who has served on city boards and commissions for more than three decades, told fellow council members Monday he helped work on many of the projects in their planning stages over the years.
"To see them transformed into this is really encouraging," Goerger said. "I think this would really be important for our community. It would really change St. Cloud."
Here is the proposal: