Herald JournalHerald Journal, Sept. 5, 2005

Momentum growing for Winsted's city center project

By Lynda Jensen

Momentum in favor of a Winsted lakefront city center complex appears to be growing as city officials answered questions from business owners during the Winsted Chamber of Commerce meeting Wednesday.

Winsted’s tax base has increased by $167,346 due to new home construction, said City Administrator Brent Mareck.

Business owners hailed the project as an attractive way to draw commerce into Winsted and energize the downtown area.

In a related matter, the project is associated with federal dollars which may be available from a community development block grant, which could revitalize and renew the downtown streetscape.

An attractive component of the project may be that the cost is affordable to Winsted taxpayers, since the city is looking at paying off bond debts through the next two years, which means taxes could remain the same rather than go up to finance the project.

There are several different options being looked at, with a popular scenario being an option that offers a new city hall complex that would include a new police station, city hall, and community center for about $1.9 million. The total project cost is estimated to be about $4.2 million.

The city is also looking into building a new public works building to replace the old, to be built at an undetermined location. This would cost about $500,000.

Parks and landscaping for the city hall along the lake would amount to $750,000.

The average tax impact on a home with $200,000 value would be about $30 per year.

There are two ways for the city to pay for it, either a referendum or by using a different route with the Winsted economic development housing authority, called a lease option.

For the lease option, the city would essentially be turning over the project to the housing authority, which is composed of the city council, Steve Stucco and Paul Weibel. It would be leasing (or paying) the housing authority for the project.

The city center was conceived last year with intensive brainstorming by the Design Team, fueled by a flood of public input and the participation of at least nine different entities, including the Winsted Lake Watershed Association, the Downtown Renewal Commission, and a focus group for the city center working since then.

If federal dollars are approved through a community development block grant, this would allow businesses along First Street to take advantage of grant money for a facelift of the downtown area. In fact, the city met with government officials last month to set this idea into motion, Mareck said.

It is also possible that the money spent by the city for city center components, if all goes as planned, could be deemed the city’s portion of matching dollars for grants, if this is required.

If this happens, it would give the city a multiple infusion of dollars to revitalize downtown.

“We don’t have a site yet for public works,” Mareck noted. There are a few easements being worked out as well.

The community center may be used for a wide range of functions, but is intended to be a smoke-free, alcohol-free environment. “It’s not intended to serve as a wedding hall,” he added.

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