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Main Avenue could receive federal funds

The proposed Park Rapids downtown street and utility project could be in line for federal stimulus money. The city council wants to move ahead with design plans so it is ready to go in case funding help comes in.

The Park Rapids City Council is optimistic the city can receive federal stimulus money to help with the Main Avenue street and utility reconstruction project.

The council decided Thursday night to order improvement and preparation of complete plans for phase one of the project and a design survey of phase two so it can be "shovel ready" in case federal money comes.

Action on the project was put on hold in December after the city heard that Local Government Aid would be cut. It was revisited Thursday night when the council heard about a possible funding opportunity.

"There is a chance that we could receive some stimulus money, especially if it comes down through the Headwaters Regional Development Commission," said city administrator Bill Smith.

City engineer Gary Nansen said the next step in phase one of the two-part proposal for Main Avenue reconstruction is to move ahead with plans and specifications.

Phase one includes Sixth Street to Industrial Park Road and the side streets including Sixth, Seventh, Eighth and Eleventh. Phase two is the business portion of Main Avenue, from Highway 34 south.

A public hearing was held in November, and at that time, several citizens voiced their concerns about how to pay for assessments on the project. Phase one is estimated to cost $1,066,300 and phase two is estimated to cost $3,352,200.

"We should continue the planning, designing and details of phase two as well," Nansen said. Then, the city would be ready to go.

The design survey entails doing field survey work of the road, sidewalks and utilities, he said.

Other communities are also getting projects ready in hopes of getting some of the stimulus money, Nansen said.

He suggested that the downtown revitalization committee that had been discussing streetscapes for phase two and the impact the project would have on downtown businesses should start meeting again.

"I agree. Yes, get the word out. Assume that it is going to happen, if it doesn't, then we're better prepared for next year," downtown revitalization organizer Ellis Jones said.

He has urged people to write letters to legislators stressing the importance of the Main Avenue project.

Nansen said the cost of a complete design for phase one would be approximately $75,000. To do just the design survey for phase two would be approximately $33,000, he said.

Councilman Pat Mikesh said, "it sounds good but I don't think you're going to be able to afford to keep going with it this time."

If the city received stimulus money for the project, it likely wouldn't cover the entire project.

"I think under any scenario, you're likely to do special assessments as part of your project," Nansen said.

Approving the plans for the project doesn't mean the city needs to move forward with construction this summer. Plans can be updated if the project is delayed.

Does it meet the criteria for the economic stimulus money is the big question, councilman Dave W. Konshok said.

"This downtown reconstruction of all the downtown utilities and potentially streetscaping in addition to it would be a huge project for our community," said Mayor Nancy Carroll. "It would be there for a long time, very visibly ... if the politicians came to town and wanted to see how that stimulus money was used, there you are."

Also, interest could increase for business owners wanting to upgrade their facilities, she said.

"It would be a stimulus for the entire community," Carroll said. "It's risky, we're watching every dollar and I would like to see us move forward with this."

"What is the downside to doing nothing?" asked councilwoman Sue Tomte.

The utilities are old and there is a risk that a water main could break, Nansen said. That has been a risk for many years, he said.

Tomte said she wanted the city to be prepared in case stimulus money was available.

Konshok made a motion to have Nansen, with Ulteig Engineers, prepare complete plans for phase one and the design survey for phase two.

The council voted 3-1 on the motion, with Mikesh voting against the motion.