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Downtown vision clear. Funding -- not so much

An artist's conception of an arts quarter near the maltery on Broad Street.

Red Wing's civic leaders have a clear vision for the future of the city's downtown. What's unclear is how anyone's going to pay for it.

A planning consultant from a Minneapolis firm on Tuesday presented city officials and business leaders with results of a study prepared to guide development in Red Wing's downtown.

Referred to as an action plan, the study calls for a wide array of measures - from increasing downtown housing to creating special activity districts.

It also calls for a reorganization of Red Wing Downtown Mainstreet Inc. - with the idea that the organization could administer the plan. According to the plan, the revamped organization would be split into four groups with specific duties and would receive managerial support from city staff and agencies.

"If Downtown Mainstreet is looking to carry this forward, how are we going to fund it?" asked the organization's president Pete Sorenson, who noted that while the plan identifies a main player it doesn't point out a clear funding mechanism.

Both city officials and business leaders said they were hesitant to commit to a funding role because of the sketchy economy.

City Council President Mike Schultz casually proposed the idea of a "service district" - in which a group of businesses in a specified area would pay a surcharge to support future developments.

Council member Carol Duff, also a downtown property owner, said she fears such a district could deter investment. Business owners would have to be shown a clear return on their investment to make a service district work, said Mayor John Howe.

Downtown developer Carol Hedin frowned on the idea.

"I love this project," Hedin said of the action plan but added, "As a downtown taxpayer I'm maxed out."

Hedin, however, didn't advocate throwing in the towel.

"We can find a way to creatively fund this without just burdening the downtown because this benefits all of Red Wing."

City Council took no formal action Tuesday. The plan will be presented to the planning commission at its next meeting. It will then go on to City Council for final approval.