Last week the city of Winona sent out a formal Request for Proposals, soliciting an architectural consultant to study and analyze the possibility of a multipurpose Shakespeare/performing arts theater and sports arena. So far, there is funding in hand from the state, $250,000, to pay a consultant to determine its feasibility and develop a design proposal – nothing else. It has been broadly inkled that such a facility would be well-suited to a location on the riverfront at the foot of Washington Street owned by local developer Dave McNally. The project, despite not having any funding in place except for the $250,000 seed money, has been variously touted as the answer to revitalizing our downtown, at a cost in the area of $30-40 million.
Now comes McNally himself with a proposal to build a six-story residential and commercial complex there. One wonders if those setting his land aside for the multipurpose center ever discussed it with the owner. In order to build his project, McNally would have to seek a zoning variance form the city from manufacturing to commercial use. What is refreshing about McNally’s project is that he would be responsible for its funding, (barring a request for TIF money), not some pie-in-the-sky source in the public or private sectors.
The elephant that is being ignored in this room is the looming replacement of the Interstate Bridge in 2015. Mayor Miller has declared that bringing the new bridge down on Huff Street is not to be considered, albeit the city has no power to set Mn/DOT’s table. At his behest, the council resolved that no new structure would be built on the old Wilkie site at the foot of Main. Obviously, a shiny new high-rise or multipurpose center at the foot of Washington pretty much rules out that location, and of course, the present Winona Street site would mean Winona would have no artery to Wisconsin for the better part of two years while the old bridge is torn down and the new one built. The city shuddered on its axis when the bridge was closed for two weeks this summer. Rerouting the bridge away from the downtown would destroy it, and cripple the rest of Winona retail. We are running out of options.
There are, then, two possibilities. Either the mayor, city administration, and their confidantes on the council have a plan for the new bridge route, or they don’t. If the former is true, they should get around to sharing it with the rest of us. If, in fact, there is no plan, that is the height of folly and irresponsibility, and they had better hatch one prior to examining myriad possibilities for the Levee and riverfront and the zoning changes to make way for them. Otherwise we will be left with only the option that Mn/DOT, in its wisdom and providence, will dictate.
We would encourage a lot of discussion regarding the new bridge and its location this election season.