Let there be lights

Lighting up Lift Bridge among downtown improvement ideas

Rich Cummings of the Downtown Revitalization Committee ambiance subcommittee discusses some of the subcommittee’s proposals during Tuesday’s Stillwater Lions Club meeting at Boutwells Landing in Oak Park Heights. Among the subcommittee’s ideas are more lights, streetscaping and trees in downtown Stillwater. (Gazette staff photo by Erik Sandin)

OAK PARK HEIGHTS — At least one group wants Stillwater city officials to see the lights when it comes to aesthetic improvements in the downtown area.

Rich Cummings said more lighting is one of many improvements that would make downtown Stillwater a destination that competes with nearby big-box retail stores once the new St. Croix Bridge, Lowell Park levee and Brown’s Creek State Trail projects are finished.

Cummings, a member of the Greater Stillwater Chamber of Commerce Downtown Revitalization ambiance subcommittee, outlined some of the group’s ideas to the Stillwater Lions Club one week before he makes a presentation to the Stillwater City Council.

Cummings acknowledged that economic changes have taken a toll on the downtown area. But he said the bridge, park and trail projects will affect downtown when finished.
“We’ve got three events that are going to bring big changes downtown,” he said. “There’s a lot of changes going on downtown.”

Those changes have Cummings’ ambiance panel looking at what would bring more people downtown.

“We want to create a feeling that draws you into a place you want to be,” he said.
Lights are one way to do that, according to Cummings.

“The most obvious thing for lighting is the Stillwater Lift Bridge,” he said. “The goal of lighting the bridge is not something that’s pretty. If it’s going to be a pedestrian bridge, it has to be safe.”

Along with lighting the Lift Bridge, lights could be installed in trees, on stairs and possibly on some riverside stone bluffs, Cummings said.

Besides lighting, the ambiance group suggests city officials revisit the downtown sign ordinance, look at streetscaping ideas and plant trees, especially in Lowell Park, Cummings said.

“We have no trees in downtown Stillwater. Trees in our park are lacking,” he said.
Cummings said the ambiance committee has lighting as the first priority, streetscaping second and trees third.

“We want to start a process to get downtown in good shape before these three projects get started,” he said. “We’re trying not to think like big box retailers downtown.”
Cummings said his committee is also seeking ways to fund downtown improvements through grants. Stillwater Ward 1 Councilman Doug Menikheim said he believes the committee’s proposals will attract funds.

“The ideas come first,” Menikheim said. “If the ideas are good, the money will come. The city doesn’t have the skills or resources to do this kind of work. Build a field and people will come. Have an idea and money will come.”

“What we have to do is rejuvenate downtown to compete against the big boxes,” said Chamber Executive Director Todd Streeter. “It’s what brings people here, that 150-year-old heartbeat of the community.”

Cummings contrasted downtown Stillwater with the downtowns in White Bear Lake, Red Wing and Hudson, Wis.

“In Hudson, Red Wing, White Bear, their downtowns, they’re the heart of the communities. Downtown is the heart of our community,” Cummings said. “In order to attract people downtown, it has to be a place you want to be. Downtown is the heart of Stillwater.”