Two Scott County communities that have long struggled to revive historic downtowns are seeing a new surge of energy this fall.

Jordan has approved a new master vision for a downtown built around historic buildings — a vision that includes sidewalk cafes, creekside walks and a new central gathering spot for farmers markets and other events.

Meanwhile, Shakopee is embarking on a major new planning push under the guidance of a mayor who is invoking images of stylish new developments like those in St. Louis Park, mixing multi-story condos and apartments with stores such as Trader Joe’s.

Neither city’s path to change is likely to be smooth, however.

In Shakopee, Mayor Brad Tabke’s hopes for the major traffic corridor just outside the historic core of downtown will face an early test in the November elections, as he faces a veteran council member who has long been a skeptic on ambitious plans to remake the city.

“There are things there already,” Matt Lehman said of the heavily trafficked 101 corridor. “I’m not sure how you’re going to take existing property currently being used — apartments, businesses operating just fine, healthy, not receiving any government assistance — I guess I don’t know why you want to take that off the tax rolls.”

And in Jordan, an online poll conducted by the local weekly paper quickly produced a highly polarized result, with strong factions leaping to both extremes when it came to creating a major new public gathering spot in the heart of a sprawling downtown.

“There’s always been a huge dichotomy in town between ‘do nothing’ and ‘let’s do something,’ ” said Charles Wood Jr., whose father, Charles Sr., a noted landscape architect, recently passed away after decades of passionate activism in rural Scott County around just such planning issues.

“My dad was action-oriented,” said the son. “He wanted to try and shape it. Just letting it be is not urban planning. He expressed a lot of frustration with that. But he also knew it was a process.”

Paradoxically, he added, he believes his father would approve of both concepts being pursued in Jordan and Shakopee: Jordan’s burnishing of historic character, and Shakopee’s interest in a higher density future that brings more animation to the scene.

“He was OK with 10-story buildings in Scott County, feeling that it brought more people in and helped businesses and, by injecting life, made it safer for everyone. The thing he hated was big-box and sprawl.”

Starting the process

Shakopee’s council recently approved the launch of a land use and marketing study for the Hwy. 101 corridor, and on Thursday the city’s Economic Development Advisory Committee and the Shakopee Chamber & Visitors Bureau are inviting business folks and property owners to a meeting to discuss upcoming plans.

The session, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at Turtles Bar and Grill, 132 1st Av. E., is to be devoted not only to the study itself but to the possibility of working with a program called Minnesota Main Street, a unit of the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota. It’s an organization that brings what it calls “a proven methodology used by over 1,200 communities across the country” that sought to jump-start ailing downtowns.

Jordan is thinking of getting involved with that same program, said Corrin Wendell, senior planner with the city.

Both cities have fought for many years over languishing downtowns and both are now eyeing catalytic possibilities, each of them thinking in part at least of Shakopee’s recent success in attracting new employers and jobs.

“We’ve received calls from people who have gained employment in Shakopee,” Wendell said, “so yes, we expect some spinoff effects for us.”

In smaller ways, Jordan too can boast of progress on some things it has long sought. There’s a new library. There’s a pharmacy after many years without one. And the old Jordan brewery, a key landmark, is being revived.

Jordan will approach the revival of its downtown by devoting relatively small amounts of money over long stretches of time to produce significant change. In the end, it wants amenities such as public pathways leading along Sand Creek, which runs through town, something that hasn’t ever been possible given private ownership and other obstacles.

But the city is starting small by taking steps to improve the commercial climate downtown in hopes of attracting more investment.

“We want to make sure Jordan is visible in things like Google searches, and finding them from Hwy. 169,” Wendell said. “We also want to make sure that all businesses collectively have certain days when they are all open and it becomes a prime shopping day for all — things like Saturdays 9 to 4 that would become prime times.”

Pending the creation of a major new civic space, she said, the city could close a downtown street for a festival or a farmers market that would create the same impact, with participants drifting off to nearby stores.

Shakopee likewise is starting with local businesses, literally creating a database of businesses along the 101 corridor as it begins to create a marketing plan for a stretch of roadway that now feels tired and aging in spots despite a remake for the roadway itself.

Missed opportunity

Tabke arrived in office deploring the missed opportunity when the powers that be merely slapped down new asphalt when they could have gone the route of St. Louis Park along Excelsior Boulevard, with its array of medians and landscaping that remade the once crime-ridden area’s image and led to new investments.

The mayor is keenly aware that visions for more urban densities will create friction. “It’ll be interesting to watch the comments section,” he said wryly. But he believes in major change.

“We need a different type of development than you see in ‘suburbs,’ ” he said. “We need to know what we can do to put a vision in place — how to get that done, where we need to take it.”

The Minnesota River, the trails along it, Huber Park, scads of historic homes and commercial buildings, are all downtown assets to build on, he said.

“Now we need to get a vision moving. But there’s just a long way to go yet.”