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Mayor addresses merchant#039;s concerns

The City of Luverne's downtown revitalization project is scheduled to start in the fall and a second public hearing was held last Thursday to address the concerns of those business owners who will be most affected by the changes.

Mayor Joe Rex Sport gave details about the project to those assembled and maps were made available highlighting the areas most affected by the project.

"We know this is going to be an inconvenience to the people on Main Street once this gets started," said Sport. "But we hope in the end you will see the results and be proud of the accomplishment."

Generally, South Forest Avenue will see the biggest 'facelift', said Sport. Both sidewalks from Third St. to the intersection of Sixth St. will be removed and replaced. The sidewalks will be narrowed and meet federal and state requirements as far as handicap access goes. The north side will also include a three-foot lower sidewalk with steps leading onto an upper sidewalk complete with railing at intervals along the walkway.

Fifth St. will see changes as well with shrubbery planted at the intersection and slant parking added in front of City Hall and Welch's Service Station.

Additionally, the city is hoping to add a number of decorative light fixtures in the downtown area, said engineer Morris Tate.

Randy Smyth, of Smyth Realty & Timber Co Inc., attended the hearing and wondered if the new sidewalks would be decorative also.

"I'd like something with brick inlay and something nice," he said. "It looks like we'd do it right if we're going to this at all. Because if it's not done right this time, none of us will ever be alive to see it done again."

The total cost for the project will be approximately $600,000 and Tate explained that the majority of the funds must be used for the sidewalks and the re-paving of South Forest Ave.

"We're hoping to back into the money for something like that but right now we don't know what the sidewalks will look like," said Tate. "With the grants we're getting for this project, much of the funds must be strictly used for a single purpose. Anything else is really just cosmetic."

Kathy McHugh, a Montgomery consultant with Roth, McHugh and Associates was on-hand to answer questions. McHugh helped the city with its grant funding for this project and offered a suggestion about the brick inlay. She said if the mayor and council wished, they could offer to sell bricks to Luverne citizens that would then be inlayed into the sidewalk at intervals.

"If that's what the citizens wanted, I wouldn't be opposed to it," said Sport.

Once work begins, Tate ensured the merchants that all contractors involved in the project would be required to leave a pathway open for patrons to enter area businesses. Also, he said, the project itself will be an on-going process where each downtown block is completed before work is started on the next one.

Awnings, over many of the downtown shops will also have to be removed, said Sport.

"When the take out the sidewalks, they'll take out the support for the awnings," he said.

Sport said the city is looking into a grant that would help offset the expense of replacing an awning for any business owners so affected by the project. The new awnings would have to be attached to the buildings.

"We're not trying to dictate to you," Sport told the business owners. "But we have to meet the criteria for what the state and the grant money calls for. We'd like for you to put up another awning if that's what you want. Especially if it helps beautify the downtown area."

Sport admitted he didn't know how the change would affect business downtown.

"I hope it encourages more business and it's something the community can be proud of," he said. "It's really been somewhat of an eyesore coming into town."