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  Wednesday January 28th, 2015    

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  (ARCHIVES)Back to Current
Building pride in the downtown (08/15/2007)
The Sebos set foot in Cedar Valley and made their new home as Norwegian immigrants on July 4, 1854 (I kid you not...it was the Fourth of July, according to family folklore).  Even by Winona standards that makes me a native. I have a visceral connection to the place we call Winona.  I call it home.  And I want it to always feel...like home.

I remember when the Hot Fish Shop left Mankato Avenue...thinking that it made that corner look more like anywhere and less like Winona.  Don't get me wrong...I like what's going on in the East End.  It means jobs.  I just want to make sure we don't fall asleep at the switch and lose too much of what makes Winona...well, what makes Winona...Winona. 

That's why I'm excited about a process that will begin soon at City Hall that recognizes the importance of downtown to our community.  It's an overdue recognition that the downtown is one of our defining characteristics that should not be significantly changed unless we all give it a good think.

The city's Heritage Preservation Commission, which I chair, has been asked to nominate our downtown's two national historic districts to our local register of historic places.  National register status is largely honorific...local designation has teeth.  It means, for example, that as a community we have decided that we won't make a habit of tearing down buildings in the districts (roughly running on Third Street from the Courthouse to Franklin and on Second from Center to Walnut).  It also means that when buildings in the district are changed or built new whenever possible they feel...well, they feel like Winona.  And before you ask, I will tell you that every study I've ever seen says local districts provide an economic boost for property owners.  It's not another government mandate, it's an investment.

This year's Great River Shakespeare Festival was by all accounts a huge success.  Why did talented people choose Winona as a site for the festival?  Why do talented people in many fields choose to make Winona home?  I believe it is because we are who we are...and because our town is what it is.  We want to grow and develop...but we also don't want to lose what makes us attractive. Because of the luck of the draw and the grace of God we are located in pretty much the most beautiful spot on the planet.  We have built a place here that we are proud to call home...and increasing numbers are choosing to visit.  We want a future that looks like us...we don't want to be Stillwater or Red Wing...we certainly don't want to be La Crosse or Rochester.  We want to be Winona.  Think of the Winona we might be if we think ahead and plan.

When the Courthouse was being built in 1881 one of the workers placed a prediction of the future in the cornerstone.  He predicted that by 1981 Winona would be a city of 100,000.  Well, not quite...but he was bullish on Winona.  He believed that Winona is a place of possibilities...and so do I.  Let's capitalize on who and what we are.  Let's preserve the best of Winona's past as we try and build the best possible future. 

We have a beautiful natural setting.  We have an historic downtown filled with world class architecture.  We host cultural resources and events that are the envy of the upper Midwest.  Our educational institutions are among the best in their class.  Our diverse economy is humming.  It would appear that we've been doing something right. 

As we expand on that success, let's not forget who we are.  This is our town. This is our area.  We should be proud of the places...most significantly downtown...that tell the story of our town's first 150 years.  Preserving our history as we prepare for our future...we owe it to both our grandparents and our grandchildren.

Bob Sebo is a radio personality with Winona Radio.



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