Visioning updates shared

NEW ULM — Updates from seven projects spawned during the 2020 Community Visioning event last year were heard Thursday afternoon.

Last November, the New Ulm Area Foundation sponsored a visioning conference where community members generated ideas to address New Ulm’s needs. Eventually they were distilled into seven independent projects that have been working toward tangible progress by 2020.

A member of each group responsible for a project presented on what has been accomplished so far.

The Riverfront Development Advocacy Group (RDAG) spoke first. Lee Weber opened by acknowledging that many of the group’s initial intentions were included in the city’s comprehensive plan.

RDAG is working on the Franklin School building that sits in Riverside Park. RDAG is starting with basic needs, or low-hanging fruit, as Weber said.

The group asked citizens their wishes and now intends to start with operational bathrooms and handicap accessibility.

RDAG also intends to expand the Bike Circle Route Trail out to Riverside. It hopes to get a spur marked from the trail near German Street, following First South Street to the park.

Next to speak was Cindy Winters who represented the Downtown Action Team. They have focused on developing a more bike and pedestrian friendly downtown. Creating a more walkable and bike-able downtown is an economic driver, Winters said.

The team also collected input from businesses via an informal survey. It found support for a number of changes.

One was changing Minnesota Street to a two-way street. As a one-way, it serves to funnel drivers out of the area, Winters said.

The survey also found that most businesses were in favor of adding green spaces and more places for pedestrians to sit, relax and socialize.

Additionally, the team is seeking to update a parking map made by the Chamber of Commerce. The map would be color-coded to indicate how long a vehicle could be parked.

It could be included in a packet of information that the group would like to see handed out with parking tickets informing violators of parking rules as part of a “parking ambassadors” program.

The map should be available on the city and chamber’s websites.

Brian Shropshire spoke for the Business and Industry Council next.

The council envisions itself as a liaison between education, housing, business, industry and local government to address collective concerns. Its mission statement focusses on what it seeks to accomplish.

“It states that the industry council is to network with industry leaders to identify common needs, concerns and strengths for the purposes of improving businesses by influencing local leaders and citizens on the impact of industry in New Ulm,” Shropshire said.

Next, the Housing Development Initiative (HNI) was represented by Dan Braam. The HNI is working closely with the Economic Development Authority (EDA).

HNI expects to see a housing study from the EDA as soon as next month, with information on housing needs, Braam said.

Currently, the initiative is building a coordinated plan based off of a 2012 housing study and a plan from Crookston that the Community Housing Development Corporation (CHDC) gave it.

The plan plays into the conversion of apartments at the old middle school by the CHDC. The company is seeking tax credits through the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency (MHFA).

To gain the credits CHDC must show the housing need in New Ulm, which the plan could illustrate.

The CHDC applies for the credits this spring, will find out if it gets the credits in the fall and can get to work next year.

“Nothing is going to happen overnight folks, I hate to burst that bubble on that front but, when it comes to housing, it takes some time,” Braam said.

HNI will hold a public forum at 6 p.m. on May 6 in the library in partnership with the League of Women Voters to collect opinions of housing needs.

The workforce training and education program is in flux, having changed its name a couple of times, according to Tami Murphy.

Murphy spoke for the program. It is currently looking into youth internships and retraining programs for people who switch careers later in life.

One idea is to develop internship programs that pair on-the-job training with additional educational opportunities and community building activities for the interns to keep them invested in New Ulm.

Murphy emphasized the need to work with the people already here, as the job-to-worker ratio is largely one-to-one. So attracting workers from other communities would be fruitless.

Dr. Ann Vogel spoke on efforts to develop a youth center. The group has found that most similar-sized communities cannot sustain a designated building.

Most either run out of funding or interest from the community, Vogel said.

Instead, the group is looking to work with the Parks and Recreation department and New Ulm Public Schools to take advantage of multipurpose spaces.

Vogel said they have found through surveys that most older kids would simply like a place to hang out whereas younger kids seek structured activities.

After the updates, Audra Shaneman, president/CEO of the Chamber, said the marketing program that seeks to attract new citizens to New Ulm has a lot of public support but lacks someone to lead it.

The New Ulm Area Foundation is also looking to aid groups with grants via programs that meet one of its four pillars: art, historic preservation, economic development and education.

Connor Cummiskey can be emailed at ccummiskey@nujournal.com.

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