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Revitalizing Anoka's Main Street

October 23, 2013

Revitalizing Anoka's Main Street

By Dan Coyle, PE, Kimley-Horn and Associates, Inc.; and Greg Lee, PE, City of Anoka

Few towns embrace Halloween with the spirited fervor of the City of Anoka -- the Halloween Capital of the World.

Located at the confluence of the Rum and Mississippi Rivers, approximately 20 miles northwest of Minneapolis, this historic river town has been celebrating the holiday on a grand scale since the 1920s with family-oriented events, fireworks, and community parades down Main Street. Main Street is at the very heart of this community -- the backdrop for festivities throughout the year, a primary transportation route that accommodates  22,000 vehicles daily, and a prime location for business and retail in this community of 18,000 residents.

Main Street’s prominence within the community was underscored when the city began a process to revitalize this vital corridor in 2007 to better support current and future businesses. This effort represented an important community investment and the goals were threefold:

  1. To beautify the downtown shopping district,
  2. To heighten pedestrian safety, and
  3. To create “convertible” public spaces such as parking lots that can also easily serve as public plazas during annual festivals for this lively town.   

Given the economic importance of the Main Street corridor, it was essential to minimize disruptions to existing businesses during the months it took to construct the improvements. Kimley-Horn was brought in to work with city staff and community stakeholders to develop a vision and plan for the improvements, which included narrowing lanes to 11 feet; an assessment of possible access consolidation and closure opportunities; and various urban design and landscape improvements. Special attention was given to parking, traffic congestion, traffic calming, pedestrian safety, and business visibility and accessibility.  

Small group meetings were held with over 100 property and business owners along Main Street to gather ideas for and concerns about the project. This feedback led to the addition of a mid-block pedestrian crosswalk with pedestrian actuated in-pavement LED warning light system for additional pedestrian safety, the addition of curb extensions (bump outs) in the central business district to shorten crosswalks and make pedestrians more visible, and a phased construction schedule that concentrated activity within one block at a time to minimize business disruptions.

A strong advertising campaign was developed to promote Main Street businesses and strengthen community support throughout the project’s construction. The advertising campaign branded the construction the “Main Street Makeover.” Participating businesses incentivized shoppers during construction with discounts and specials with a “Main Street Makeover VIP Card.”

Communication with business owners and property owners was essential during construction. The city established a telephone hotline and a project website to progress updates and also used Anoka’s Facebook page to post updates on construction activities. During construction, property and business owners were also invited to attend weekly construction meetings and their feedback was received during the opening minutes of each meeting. These open lines of communication helped alleviate concerns and kept community support for the Main Street businesses strong.

At the conclusion of construction, the downtown business association promoted the “Grand Reopening of Main Street” with a ribbon cutting event and giveaways. A $1,000 shopping spree was one of the available prizes for participating.

In an editorial to the Star Tribune, the downtown business association wrote, “The communication between the business community and the public works department, engineering, and administrative elements of the city has provided us merchants with opportunities to be a part of the planning, building, and advertising of this project. We have been heard, our concerns answered.” 

This project would not have been successful without the support of the business owners and property owners.

The Main Street improvements projects concluded in 2013. Today, Main Street is more inviting with the newly-constructed improvements. Broader tree-lined sidewalks have increased foot traffic between businesses and lighting fixtures adorned with colorful banners, which allude to the city’s nineteenth century origins, grace the wider walkways. A decorative fountain installed within a new circle driveway announcing your arrival at City Hall is designed so that the fountain pump and lights can be removed in the winter providing a home for the city’s 30-foot lighted holiday tree.

This past July, the city welcomed over 10,000 visitors at its annual Anoka Riverfest and Craft Fair, prominently located at the newly reconstructed “convertible” city hall parking lot and fountain area and along the city’s waterfront. And, with Halloween right around the corner, the revitalized Main Street will provide a better-than-ever backdrop for Anoka’s spirited Light Up the Night parade, Big Parade of Little People, and Grand Day parade. 

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