Downtown Elk River plan clears City Council, 4-1

Click here to see the plan for the greater downtown Elk River area.

by Joni Astrup

Associate editor

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

A long-range plan for a 432-acre area in and around downtown Elk River has passed the City Council on a 4-1 vote.

Council members Jerry Gumphrey, Nick Zerwas and Matt Westgaard and Mayor John Dietz voted for the plan, called the Mississippi Connections Redevelopment Framework. Council Member Paul Motin voted against it.

The plan was prepared by an 18-member task force chaired by Dana Anderson of the Elk River Planning Commission and Stewart Wilson of the Elk River Housing and Redevelopment Authority.

Some examples of possible signage for the greater downtown area.

Motin said he appreciates the task force’s work and likes parts of the plan, such as ideas for signage in the downtown area, promoting activities and events downtown and using the river more. But he expressed concern about some of the preservation aspects of the plan.

While he doesn’t want to bulldoze downtown, he isn’t necessarily in favor of restricting all redevelopment in the area.

Elk River Planning Manager Jeremy Barnhart has said that the plan doesn’t take a strict hands-off approach to redevelopment, but does talk about preserving downtown’s Bluff Block, Brick Block and the area along south Main Street.

Motin also questioned the plan’s interest in preserving old houses in neighborhoods near downtown. But Zerwas said the plan doesn’t mandate historic preservation. “If you own a home in the residential portion of downtown…there is nothing in this plan that says you can’t bulldoze your house to the ground and rebuild a house,” he said.

Zerwas and Gumphrey both served on the downtown task force.

Gumphrey thanked the task force members and the city staff people for their work on the plan and said the document should be approved. Zerwas and Westgaard echoed those sentiments.

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. In this case, Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, 1326 4th St., retains much of its historical character.

Dietz said he’s a big fan of history.

“It’s very important for a community to tie the past to the present to the future,” he said. “I think that if you lose sight of your past, you lose something.”

He thinks it’s a valid plan to move forward to try to preserve some of the history of Elk River, noting that downtown has been the core of the city.

It’s a plan and not written in stone, but a lot of thought and effort went into it and Dietz said he supports it.

Overall, the plan looks at making downtown a local destination, and a place to linger, stroll, shop and take advantage of what it offers, according to Barnhart.

The plan was drafted with an eye to strengthening downtown in the face of future changes, particularly to Highway 10. Long-term, the state intends to turn Highway 10 through downtown into a freeway, limiting access to the downtown area.

Dietz said no one knows when or if the changes will happen to Highway 10. “But I think it’s good to prepare so that we don’t get caught off-guard if and when that happens,” he said.

The council is expected to act on a resolution to formally approve the plan Dec. 3.