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Our Opinion: It's not too late to rethink South Sixth Street

Numerous plans have been floated over the decades aimed at the revitalization of downtown Brainerd.

In the late 1980s there was the Regional/Urban Design Assistance Team. In the early 2000s a group that included the city and Brainerd Restoration offered a downtown revitalization plan. In between and since there have been myriad ideas floated as to how to make downtown great again.

Now, another such plan could be in the works.

Todd Streeter, a consultant with Community Collaboration, was approached by a small group of property and business owners about shaping downtown Brainerd's future. On Monday, he offered his ideas during a meeting at First Lutheran Church.

In a story on the meeting in Tuesday's Dispatch, Streeter said he focuses on achieving community success through building relationships with inclusive collaboration. Instead of relying on a top-down model, with government or a hired project manager taking the lead, Streeter endorsed a more bottom-up, grassroots approach where community members form a committee and do the work themselves.

While Streeter's vision is short on specifics at this point, downtown property and business owners should be commended for taking the initiative to bolster downtown.

While it could take years for any plans to come to fruition—if they ever do at all—we would like to offer up one idea that we think could kickstart a revived downtown—a redesigned South Sixth Street as a three-lane road.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation plans to reconstruct South Sixth Street and tasked the Brainerd City Council in 2015 to choose from three alternatives—a three-lane project, a five-lane project or a hybrid two-lane project with options for a center median, bike lanes and parking.

The three-lane project was an idea we endorsed in 2015, prior to the council's vote for a preferred five-lane project. But it's a new year, a new council and perhaps there could be some new direction for one of the main thoroughfares through Brainerd.

In our 2015 editorial, we argued a three-lane design would be more user friendly—not just for vehicles but for bicyclists and pedestrians.

What we said in 2015 remains our stance today: "... a three-lane road could transform South Sixth Street from a thoroughfare through the city into a gateway into the city. We want to invite people into Brainerd, not rush them through the city. A South Sixth Street project, carefully considered, is a step toward encouraging pedestrians and bicyclists to use the corridor, building on investments in the downtown area. Brainerd has an opportunity to enhance how people perceive the city and that could have positive ripple effects on multiple levels by creating an inviting place for residents and visitors to do more than just pass through."

Borrowing from Streeter's approach, perhaps Brainerd residents, business owners and visitors need to take a grassroots approach to South Sixth Street and let the city council know how they feel. It's not too late to return South Sixth Street to an inviting gateway to our historic downtown.

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