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Willmar recognized for revitalization efforts

WILLMAR — The Willmar Design Center has received recognition for its downtown revitalization efforts by becoming Minnesota’s first nationally accredited Main Street program.

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“It’s a recognition that the Willmar Design Center is meeting this national standard of following best practices not just in completing specific projects but in ensuring the program will be sustainable long-term and is being most effective as it can be in its community,” said Emily Northey, Minnesota Main Street coordinator at the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota.

The national accreditation was first announced this spring, and the Design Center was recognized recently for the achievement.

Design Center Project Coordinator Beverly Dougherty said she is proud of the award, which was presented during the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota’s gala Sept. 27 at the architecturally significant Christ Church Lutheran in south Minneapolis.

“We were the only award in this category. We started with five designated cities in Minnesota, and we are the first one to obtain accreditation, which means that you have to meet the rules to be accredited,” Dougherty said.

The Design Center achieved this recognition by meeting standards that measure not only if a program follows Main Street’s four design, economic restructuring, promotion and organization goals, but how well a program manages itself, its overall health, effectiveness in the community, management of resources and planning for the future.

Accreditation eligibility is evaluated each year by statewide downtown revitalization leaders from Minnesota Main Street and must meet certain standards in the evaluation year in order to be accredited.

While state coordinating programs like Minnesota Main Street “designate” which commercial district revitalization programs are eligible to be considered “Main Street” programs, the honor of accreditation is awarded by the National Trust Main Street Center to programs that meet higher program standards, according to those familiar with the programs.

The Willmar Design Center is among programs in five Minnesota cities to be designated as Main Street programs. But Willmar is now the only one of the five to be accredited.

The state Main Street program says the Willmar Design Center brings a great deal of activity to the area in the form of weekly outdoor markets, annual parades, outdoor art festivals, and block parties.

Visitors can discover many of the historic buildings within Willmar’s Main Street district by following one of the three different measured walking paths in the area.

Dougherty said the Design Center’s newest committee — Historic Preservation and Design Standards — complies with accreditation requirements. She said the Design Center’s “wonderful board of directors got to work and made sure we met the requirements of being an accredited member.”

In the area of revitalization, the Design Center and the Willmar Housing and Redevelopment Authority obtained federal funding used by some downtown businesses to rehab their storefronts, roofs, windows, and make interior improvements.

The center and HRA have collaborated on a second round of funding, and Dougherty encourages building owners to contact the center and HRA for more information. The funds must be placed by the end of 2014.

Dougherty said the center brought a historian to town who studies the feasibility of establishing historic downtown districts.

Although Willmar has destroyed many of its “treasurers,” the historian said Willmar still has remaining buildings that are eligible for a district. Dougherty said owners of eligible buildings in the district would qualify for state and federal rehabilitation tax credits.

“We’re hopeful that we will get to designate an historic district downtown,” she said.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150