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Downtown pipe cave-in a sign to start construction

A small pipe cave-in occurred in front of Park Rapids city hall earlier this week, signifying a need for utility and street reconstruction in downtown.

City administrator Bill Smith said the small cave-in occurred on Tuesday on Second Street West, a side street off of Main Avenue.

"I think it's just an omen, a sign that we need to get busy on Main Avenue," he said.

The Park Rapids City Council has scheduled a public hearing for 6 p.m. June 23 before its regular meeting. The city council has decided it would rather complete the reconstruction project in one summer than stretch the project over two summers. The proposed project would be to complete the construction in 2010.

A second informational "cracker barrel" session was held Wednesday. City officials from Wadena shared what it was like during their 2003 downtown revitalization and reconstruction process.

Wadena's project had some similarities but also some striking differences to the proposed Park Rapids project.

Wadena's representatives shared ideas about how to keep business booming at downtown stores during the construction process. A huge summer promotion, called "The Big Dig," was organized in Wadena.

Wadena's Economic Development executive director, Dean Uselman, said for their project, work was first done in the alleys, which were in bad shape. Many of the downtown businesses made improvements to or created new entrances to the backs of the stores.

Like Park Rapids, Wadena had aging clay utility pipes that needed to be replaced. One large difference was that Wadena's downtown is Highway 71 so the city needed to work with MnDOT, which funded some of the project.

The Wadena Area Chamber of Commerce organized a large promotion with downtown businesses. Planning started about a year before construction began, said Chamber executive director Shirley Uselman. Donations were collected for the promotion.

There were weekly drawings for gift certificates donated by businesses and a drawing at the end of the promotion for a four-wheeler.

The promotion was a huge success, Shirley Uselman said.

"The next year we didn't do a promotion and the businesses came back and said 'we need to do another promotion,'" she said.

Another necessity for the project is having good signs that will direct people to where they need to go, Shirley Uselman said.

Good communication with the engineer and contractors is also necessary, said Wadena's city administrator, Brad Swenson.

"Cracker barrel" sessions will continue to be organized the last Wednesday of every month. The next session, June 24, will focus on arts in downtown.