HRA approves downtown plan in 4-1 vote; council to consider it Monday

Click here to read about Paul Motin’s objections to the downtown plan.

by Joni Astrup

Associate editor

A new plan for downtown Elk River designed in part to strengthen the area in anticipation of future changes to Highway 10 has been approved by the Elk River Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA).

A plan for a 400-acre area in and around downtown Elk River is called the Mississippi Connections Redevelopment Framework.

Ultimately, the state intends to transform Highway 10 into a freeway through downtown. Access to downtown for people driving west on Highway 10 would be south of the current chamber office; downtown access for eastbound traffic on Highway 10 would be west of Proctor Avenue.

“We won’t have the easy on-easy off access that we enjoy now,” Elk River Planning Manager Jeremy Barnhart told the HRA during a Nov. 5 hearing on the downtown plan. Rather, access into downtown would be via interchanges and a frontage road system.

The change isn’t imminent and could be many years — decades possibly — away.

An example of possible signage in downtown Elk River.

“We don’t know when they (the Highway 10 changes) are going to happen but we know that they are coming in the future,” Barnhart said.

But knowing that plan is on the books, the city is looking at ways to help downtown to prepare.

A 17-member task force has been meeting for months to craft a long-range plan called the Mississippi Connections Redevelopment Framework. It was approved in a 4-1 vote by the HRA Nov. 5 (see related story) and goes to the City Council for consideration on Monday, Nov. 19.

Barnhart said the task force is trying to develop downtown as more of a destination.

One strategy is to establish it as an area through signage.

This illustrates an idea for historical photo kiosks, where people could see an old photo of a building and compare it with the way the building looks today. This example is Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, 1326 Fourth St.

Another idea is to communicate the history of the area. One type of signage being considered would display a photo of an old building outside the building as it exists today.
“We have a series of historic pictures from the downtown area,” Barnhart said. “These are very neat in the sense that there’s not a lot of change in some of the buildings.”

While the task force recognizes that the buildings downtown aren’t necessarily of state or national historic significance, Barnhart said the task force still sees value in preserving the area.

“The downtown task force sees this area as Elk River’s history … so we should work to preserve that,” he said.

The task force also looked at six sub-areas within the 432-acre study area in and around downtown.

They include:

•Recreational opportunities: These include Bailey Point, the Mississippi and Elk rivers, Handke Stadium and Lions Park. “All of these bring people to the downtown area,” Barnhart told the HRA.

Looking north from the corner of Main Street and Jackson Avenue in downtown Elk River.

•Core downtown: This initially included the old downtown area between Highway 10 and the river. But feedback on the proposed plan led the task force to expand the core downtown area to include an additional four-block area north of Highway 10 along Jackson Avenue, Railroad Drive and Fourth Street.

•Highway 10 corridor: Considered the “front porch” of Elk River, as many people form their impression of Elk River while driving through on Highway 10, Barnhart said. The plan outlines some ideas to improve the appearance of the Highway 10 corridor.

•North of Highway 10: Barnhart said the area immediately north of Highway 10 has potential for greater employment uses such as office buildings as well as condominums and apartments.

•Residential neighborhoods: There are a number of unique residential areas in the study area, Barnhart said. Some of Elk River’s first neighborhoods are located south of Main Street near downtown and the river. The plan lays out strategies to help keep those homes viable, he said.

•Proctor and Quinn: Ultimately, the state proposes to put an overpass over Highway 10 and the railroad tracks in this area, Barnhart said, and affect homes and businesses in the area.