Community Visioning groups report on progress

Staff photo by Clay Schuldt Cindy Winters with the Downtown Action Group spoke on her teams progress in improving the downtown Minnesota Street business district. Early efforts focused on parking issues and sidewalk additions.

NEW ULM — Over 50 people listened to an update on the New Ulm Community Visioning 2020 efforts at the New Ulm Area Chamber of Commerce’s Hot Topic Lunch Friday afternoon.

A year ago, around 100 people representing the New Ulm area discussed community issues and prioritized projects as part of a multi-day seminar. From that session several groups formed to research and move those project forward. On Friday four of the groups gave a progress report over lunch at the New Ulm Country Club.

Cindy Winters spoke first on behalf of the Downtown Action Team. The team started its efforts with a survey of downtown businesses. One of the survey questions was about parking downtown. Often employees working downtown were found to be in competition for parking with potential customers, but the Action Team felt parking issues could be managed through education.

Winter said people who live and work in New Ulm understand where they can park, but those unfamiliar with the town do not know where to go. It was suggested the team create a parking ambassador program to assist with parking. New Ulm’s city parking map now includes locations of available parking along with time frames. There has also been talk of naming the parking areas and adding signage to help visitors.

The survey showed positive support for outside seating downtown. The Action Team has already started work relocating benches and tables to Minnesota Street from under-utilized locations and the response has been positive.

Winter closed with the idea of changing downtown Minnesota Street into a two-way road. She said there are economic advantages to this change, but if the businesses do not support the change the team will not move forward.

The Downtown Action Team is continuing to conduct studies on what is needed to improve the Minnesota Street business district.

The Housing Needs Initiative (HNI) was represented by Daniel Braam. In the last year the group has worked with the State Street Apartment project to create a community action plan. This allowed the apartment project to apply for tax credits. Combined with the Community Housing Study, the HNI had a blueprint to move forward.

Braam said this brought together several stakeholders, including builders, Realtors, bankers and the general public to access housing in New Ulm.

“I think it played a role in getting information and played a role in the EDA sale of Milford Heights to a developer,” Braam said. This sale was the first step in the construction of twin homes and townhouses.

Lee Weber with the River Development Advocacy Group (RDAG) talked about developing efforts for the Minnesota River area of New Ulm. RDAG partnered with Parks Department in order to avoid overlap. The focus over the last year has been on Riverside Park.

The old Franklin School house was cited as a major asset. Improvements have been made including chimney and lighting repairs. There are plans to install water fountain access on the side of the building. Two planters were added to the park in 2017 through a partnership with an education group.

Long range goals include a memorial to “The Otter” a riverboat that used to navigate the Minnesota River. The plan is to have an interpretive display with the memorial.

Other plans include a balcony for the backside of the Franklin building to provide a scenic view of the river. The project could be completed without effecting the historic nature of the building.

The last update came from the Work Force Training group that recently merged with the Business and Industry group. Group spokesperson Tami Murphy said they had three community initiatives. First, to create a community internship program; second, to connect the area schools with the business community and last, bring workforce trainers into the community.

Murphy said they have already been in contact with workforce professionals associated with South Central College in Mankato. Murphy distributed surveys to those in attendance to determine which training topics were most needed in New Ulm.

At the close of the Hot Topics Lunch, New Ulm Chamber President Audra Shaneman said there was an additional group formed during the 2020 Visioning seminar that was not moving forward. This group was dedicated to marketing New Ulm to visitors and potential residents. This was a group everyone has supported, but was in need of new ideas. The community was encourage to join this or any of the other groups to further support 2020 Visioning efforts.