Revamping downtown infrastructure could be costly
Park Rapids city leaders heard a detailed proposal Tuesday night about plans to overhaul Main Avenue's geriatric infrastructure, starting next summer.
But it wasn't the prospect of another year of construction that made some city council members wince.
It was the $5.245 million price tag.
And even though the plan is just in the preliminary stages and wasn't approved by the Park Rapids City Council, it calls for estimated special assessments of the benefited property owners that would range from roughly $13,000 to $16,000 per 50-foot lot.
Those property owners live or do business on Main Avenue from Highway 34 south to Industrial Park Road, the proposed construction zone. Side streets on either direction off Main would also be affected.
"We're going to have a hard time finding the money for this," said council member Clyde Zirkle. "Where's the city going to get its share and the housing residents in those three blocks" of the residential section?, he questioned.
Zirkle said the residents "didn't vote for it and don't want it." He questioned whether homeowners should be assessed at the same rate as business owners.
The plan calls for major overhauls of the downtown's aging infrastructure, which dates back to the 1930s.
The construction would replace a 6-inch clay water main with a 10-inch PVC pipe to increase fire flows; update sanitary sewers; install storm sewers and replace hydrants, curbs, gutters, sidewalks and the pavement down the city's main artery.
Because similar work is now under way on Pleasant Avenue to the west, engineers would tie Main Avenue water and sewer lines into the new system being installed under Pleasant.
Municipal engineering consultant Gary Nansen, of Ulteig Engineering, Inc., said the proposed two phases, completing the southernmost work (south of Sixth Street) in 2009 and the commercial business district the following year, are only logical predictions of how the work could progress.
He stressed to concerned councilors that the city doesn't need to undertake the entire project now, or in the stages envisioned.
"These phases are informal break-outs at this point," he said.
The council sent Nansen back to the drawing board to devise alternate plans that could result in almost $2 million in savings. Nansen will make a second presentation to the city in September, outlining those alternatives.
If the council decided after that to proceed, the next step would be to schedule a public hearing for all affected property owners and the public.
Nansen reiterated again that the plans were preliminary in nature, and that a lengthy legal and public process would likely hone them - and the costs - down.
For instance, when council members suggested doing the first five blocks of Main only by next summer in lieu of the entire 15-block span, Nansen said that could be done, but the council would eventually face the inevitable: The remaining stretch of Main Avenue's infrastructure will need replacing sooner rather than later.
Water and sewer mains have already exceeded their "useful expected life spans," Nansen indicated. A water main rupture in the winter could be a costly disaster, he cautioned.
The suggestion of tackling the commercial district by 2009 brought concerns from downtown business owners. Ellis Jones and Peter McEwen, who own businesses in the affected areas, said they weren't prepared on such short notice to undergo a major renovation of the downtown area.
"We have some very fast dancing to do," McEwen said. "A year was what we counted on to get this done," he said of the pre-planning in anticipation of the street work.
McEwen and Jones said they'd assumed the target date of 2010 gave them enough time for business owners to provide alley access to their shops, devise marketing plans to survive the construction season, coordinate with city leaders and contractors and "get our ducks in a row."
Once again Nansen assured the council and audience that the project was flexible, that construction timetables could be adjusted even by a year, and that he would work with all the concerned parties to assure a mutually agreeable improvement plan.
McEwen suggested the 50-foot lot assessment costs should be figured on a per-foot basis to more accurately reflect the downtown commercial lots, which generally run 35-37 feet, he said.
Business owners might balk when faced with assessments that are considerably higher than what they actually could be, he noted.
Another phase of the project is a cityscape plan that would result in more cosmetic changes to the downtown area, including landscaping, new lighting, decorative trash receptacles, a portable performance square, bike racks, benches, pedestrian crosswalks and corner enhancements. The price tag for those enhancements is more than $900,000.
Engineers also suggested enhancing the city's center parking either with colored concrete or pavers to create a "virtual median."
Hubbard County Regional Economic development Director David Collins said finding the city's share of the financing isn't an insurmountable hurdle. He said funds might be available through various federal agencies at reduced interest rates, which would lower the costs.
And shaving some of the overall costs would result in money for other projects, council members reasoned.
"We have to look at it dollar-wise," council member Gene Kinkel said.