What’s down the road? With new bridge open, chamber looks to the future

Cars drive over the St. Croix Crossing bridge during a morning fog Aug. 7. (Gazette staff photo by Jonathan Young)

With the completion of the St. Croix Crossing bridge, area businesses and residents may be wondering, “What’s next?”

That was the question the Greater Stillwater Chamber of Commerce tackled at its quarterly “Toast & Topics” event Sept. 6, at the Watermark Church HUB building in Oak Park Heights.

Speakers from MnDOT and the city of Stillwater outlined some of the next steps related to the conversion of the rehabilitation of the Stillwater Lift Bridge and the future of downtown Stillwater.

“There’s great opportunity for the future of Stillwater downtown and the whole riverfront area,” said McCarty, Stillwater’s city administrator.

One of the most anticipated aspects of Stillwater’s downtown plan is the conversion of Chestnut Street into a pedestrian plaza between Main Street and the lift bridge.

“This is probably the first item of business we will look at in the downtown plan,” McCarty said.

Funds are included in the 2018 budget to begin the process of creating the pedestrian area. It will take some time, McCarty said, because the city will have to create detailed plans and work through logistics with MnDOT, which has jurisdiction over Main Street as part of Highway 95.

Other aspects in the downtown plan, which the city council reviewed earlier this year, include parking, streetscape work and trails.

Parking is perennial topic of conversation downtown, and the plan shows two potential locations for an additional municipal ramp on Second Street. One is the current Teddy Bear Park lot next to the intersection of Second and Nelson. The other is at the corner of Second and Olive Street.

Initial drafts of the plan included a possible ramp at the south end of Main Street next to St. Croix Boat & Packet, but the city council eliminated that spot from consideration after concerns were raised about the view coming into downtown.

Stillwater city administrator Tom McCarty speaks at the Greater Stillwater Chamber of Commerce’s “Toast & Topics” event Sept. 6 at the Watermark Church HUB building in Oak Park Heights.(Gazette staff photo by Jonathan Young)

Streetscape work includes potential widening of sidewalks and potential adjustments to parking in places on Main Street, but McCarty said details of such plans would need to be worked out with MnDOT.

As for trails, the city anticipates increased bike traffic when the new loop trail over the two river bridges in complete.

Todd Clarkowski, of MnDOT, said the 4.7-mile trail being created as part of the St. Croix Crossing project will be complete in 2018, with the exception of the Stillwater Lift Bridge itself.

Kent Barnard, of MnDOT, gave an overview of the repairs and upgrades being made to the lift bridge, including replacement of some original parts from its construction in 1931. The bridge is being renovated and converted to a pedestrian and bike bridge and is expected to be complete in 2019.

In addition to the loop trail, Clarkowski said MnDOT is creating a parking lot, just north of the entrance to Sunnyside Marina, to allow access to the new bridge and the loop trail. In the meantime, MnDOT is allowing parking on the service road to the south of the Sunnyside entrance.

The state hasn’t yet taken traffic counts on either Highway 36 or Highway 95 to determine the effects of the new bridge. According to Clarkowski, MnDOT typically waits about six months after a major project is complete to let the situation normalize and get a more accurate measure of the impact.

The city of Stillwater, however, has already reported a significant reduction in traffic through Stillwater neighborhoods.

McCarty also touched on plans for Bridgeview Park along the river to the south of downtown and the Aiple property to the north.

The plan for Bridgeview includes an upper and lower section of trail (the upper section is the loop trail that’s under construction). It also outlines parking and picnic areas, a possible fishing pier and the potential for public docks.

The Aiple property, which lies along the river north of the old train depot, now belongs to the city of Stillwater. It was purchased in partnership with the county and state.

The property is slated to become a park for “passive recreational” uses, such as picnic areas and a potential non-motorized boat launch. The house on the site may be repurposed or may be demolished. Due to the agreement with the county and state, the city doesn’t expect to be able to add significant parking to future park.

Although the property isn’t yet operating as a city park, McCarty said residents can explore it.

“The gates are not locked,” he said. “You can walk down there.”

Contact Jonathan Young at [email protected]