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Rambling River Center plaza development on hold

The Farmington City Council on Monday postponed hiring a Minneapolis-based landscape architect to redesign the Rambling River Center plaza on Oak Street after several business owners voiced concerns about losing parking in downtown Farmington.

"I would like to know where our employees will park," said Janie Tutewohl, owner of Market on Oak. "I'm all for supporting our seniors, but we can't close off that alley. We already have a huge parking problem downtown."

The plaza, which essentially is a parking lot, is often used during big events, such as Dew Days, to house food trucks and a large tent. It sits behind several Main Street shops and doesn't offer much for aesthetics.

Anne Olson, co-owner of TOWN Sports, questioned how much the public would enjoy a space that overlooks the backsides of their businesses where the garbage cans sit.

"The back of the buildings aren't very attractive," she said.

Adam Kienberger, community development director, said the space is something people asked for when the city was designing its downtown redevelopment plan. The plan addresses vacant and underutilized sites, adding a park or plaza in the downtown core, adding connections to the regional bike trail system, adding a riverwalk, creating a stronger downtown entry from Highway 50, improving the character of the streets, adding new housing options and creating a stronger downtown identity.

"The idea of a central gathering space was something that kept coming up," he said.

The parking lot adjacent to the Rambling River Center is central to the downtown and large enough to accommodate some green space and some parking.

Brian Harjes, vice president of Hoisington Koegler Group Inc., had taken a look at the space, anticipating consent from the city council to go ahead with concept development.

The biggest challenge for making it an enjoyable space, he said, is balance.

"There's a lot of things going on," he said. "You've got to balance the day-to-day activities with the bigger events."

The plaza's design would need to incorporate balance for big and small events, a variety of paving types, seating, waste receptacles, bike racks, amenities (such as a fountain, public art, Christmas tree, existing historic bell), and necessary parking spaces. Landscaping and lighting also needs to be updated.

The cost for the concept alone was estimated at $7,000.

Roger Wood, a member of the Rambling River Center advisory board, wants to make sure the old firehouse bell remains. It is currently on display near the center on Oak Street.

"They want to move the bell that was in the old fire hall. Some of us are against this," he said. "We would prefer it stay out in the open."

Council members began to have doubts after hearing the concerns of business owners and seeing the price tag.

"I'm wondering if it is in the right spot," Mayor Todd Larson said. "I think we need to sit down and look at it some more before we make a decision."

The contract also included design work on two parks — Marigold Park, at 212th Street West and Prairie Pines Park on the corner of 223rd Street and Cambrian Way — which the council approved.

The design firm would start by scheduling a public open house to seek input on Prairie Pines Park. Marigold Park is so small, the staff and firm will not seek input.

If the concepts are approved, Marigold Park would likely get a small swing set and landscaping. Prairie Pines Park would get playground equipment, a picnic shelter or gazebo, ball courts, green spaces for play, landscaping and connecting bike trails.