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2017 named 'Year of Tomorrow' in annual city report

Community members take part in a design charrette held by the city as part of the Kinni Corridor Project's planning process. Community members were able to work with staff to develop design concepts for possible future options for the river.1 / 3
WinField United held its grand opening in River Falls in 2017.2 / 3
Community members take part in the city's Kinni Corridor planning design charrette. Held in October, the charrette developed several design concepts as possibilities for the Kinni Corridor's future. Photos courtesy city of River Falls.3 / 3

Last year was declared the "Year of Tomorrow" in this year's River Falls "State of the City" video report, delivered recently to the City Council at a Chamber of Commerce business breakfast event by City Administrator Scot Simpson.

"We spent a lot of time on some long term projects," said Simpson about 2017.

Some of those projects included the Kinni Corridor Project, Glen Park improvements, infrastructure planning with the North Interceptor Sewer Project, finishing work on the Kinni Trail System, and identifying what the next projects may be.

"The real reason to call it the year of tomorrow is to help us stay focused as staff," Simpson said. "The real reason we're here is the future. It's easy to get caught up in the day-to-day but our goal is to set ourselves up for the decades to come."

Simpson said this year long-term planning has been "highlighted" but it's not a new emphasis.

Long-term planning has been a big part of the city's decision-making and fiscal planning for a long time, Simpson said.

"It's just that things are starting to align a little bit with some of our long range plans now," Simpson said, "And we're looking at the housing study and others to get an idea of what the long range future looks like."

Here are a few highlights from the city's "Year of Tomorrow" state of the city video.

Kinni Corridor Project

The Kinni Corridor Project was a large focus of future planning in 2017. One of the highlights of the Kinni Corridor Committee's work over the past year was the time and effort the community has been willing to invest in the project, Simpson said.

He called 2017 a "year of learning" about the river, hydroelectric facilities, and more. The group learning process was a highlight for him as well.

Simpson said the cooperation of community members has been valuable.

"Decisions in a community tend to have longer staying power if they're built on ... shared understandings," Simpson said.

He said the Kinni Corridor project is about a lot more than just the hydroelectric facilities on the city's two dams.

"It's really about the relationship with the river," Simpson said, on a human scale and a developmental scale. "What pieces of city infrastructure need to be in, around, and through the river."

Simpson said the city appreciates the community's engagement.

"It's been a fun process for staff and it's invigorating. It's part of why we all come to work each day in a local government setting is to try to help the community fulfil its greatest potential."

Simpson also noted that people were thoughtful in developing their own opinions, but also open-minded to reconsider their own views and understand how others felt throughout the process.

Glen Park

The city's master plan for Glen Park outlines a number of projects, Simpson said. The total cost of those projects is nearly $10 million.

"The budget for the project is about half of that," he said.

The city went forward with a new pavilion building and storm shelter, with construction planned to start in 2018; the opening is scheduled for 2019. Over the next five to six months the Park Board and the City Council will discuss which projects from the master plan will be implemented in 2019-2020.

Other features of the master plan include reconfigured parking, transportation facilities in the park and other amenities such as a splash pad and a nature-themed playground. There is also an option for a multi sport court or ice rink.

"There's a couple of other options for the council to consider as far as what they do over the next couple years here," Simpson said.

Kinni Trail System

Come spring grass will be growing around the new pathways and people will have the opportunity to take a jog or walk around the river downtown, Simpson said.

"I think it's a pretty exciting thing that we've been able to accomplish over the 35-year planning period ... for the trails," he said.

He said there's been excellent response from community members. People were out on the trails even before they opened.

"So people are excited about getting down near the river," Simpson said. "It's been a great amenity for the downtown."

Growth and development

The city has also seen quite a bit of growth and development of late. WinField United held a grand opening on its new facility in 2017 and the St. Croix Valley Business Innovation Center broke ground in 2017.

"We've seen not only those two new entrants to the community, but also existing businesses in the community looking to take a more active role," said Simpson. That means more organizations have representatives volunteering in more things around town and "supporting the life and vitality of the community."

"Every time you have an opportunity to do a ribbon cutting or a ground-breaking it brings some renewed focus to your community," Simpson said.

He also noted a number of projects downtown where people have made investments into existing buildings, which indicates people's optimism about the community. He said vacancies downtown often don't last long.

"That's a good sign for our community too," he said. "People are interested in the commercial property."

Continuing to look to the future

The most important thing Simpson wants people to remember from the 2017 State of the City video is that they've made a good choice to live here.

As the city's long-term planning sets the course and vision for the community's future, he said the city needs community members to be involved in the planning process.

"We need their continued support and involvement to make a good place to live 20 years from now, and that they should be thankful for the folks 20 years ago that helped plan for the things that we're taking advantage of today. And that now, they have a role to play to help us plan for those residents 20 years from now," Simpson said.

View the full "Year of Tomorrow" State of the City video on the city's YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dlIHMTyC2lU&feature=em-subs_digest.

Gretta Stark

Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.

(715) 426-1048
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