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Designers dream of Winona after industry (10/20/2013)
By Chris Rogers

     A draft slideshow prepared by Levee Park designer Matt Tucker imagines the end of the barge era. One of his "what if" scenarios involves the volatility of river levels worsening to the point that regular barge traffic becomes impossible.
What do you think about climate change predictions, the future of barge traffic, and Levee Park? Those questions may sound unrelated, but they are set to be major topics of discussion at an upcoming public forum on Levee Park redevelopment.

The forum will center on three "what if" scenarios proposed by landscape architects from the University of Minnesota, hired by the city of Winona to guide the effort to redesign the city's riverfront park. Based on assumptions of changing climate, rising fuel costs, and declining manufacturing, the designer's "what if" scenarios are "provocative," to use the Winona Levee Park Committee's words.

Being provocative is part of the point, landscape architect Matt Tucker explained in an interview. This style of planning scenario planning was pioneered by military leaders preparing for the potential outcomes of nuclear war, he explained. "It allows you to set aside the constraints of the everyday and forces you to think about a bigger picture," he added. The idea is to generate discussion, not to provide a prediction or forecast; however, Tucker said his scenarios are not fanciful. They are based on "real things that are changing" now or "drivers," he stated.

Last week, the committee minus designers Tucker and Mary Vogel met to review a draft of the slideshow presentation Tucker and Vogel prepared to jumpstart public discussion of at the forum.

The scenarios in the draft presentation suggest big changes. "In 2050, Winona's economy had grown into one that was driven more by cultural and recreational activities than by manufacturing," the presentation, set in an imaginary future, began. Climatic changes worse flooding and changing river levels will lead to fewer barges on the Mississippi and a more "wild" river, the draft presentation continued. In Tucker's 2050 Winona, "the dramatic rise and fall of river levels meant the nine-foot navigable channel could no longer be reliably maintained in a cost-effective manner." In an interview, Tucker explained that the river level scenario is based on studies by the U.S. Geologic Survey. Spurred by those changes, eco-tourism will replace industry on Winona's riverfront, his presentation imagined. Changes to state stormwater regulations will require more green space in downtown Winona, read another slide that depicted planters lining city streets. Those stormwater regulation changes are likely, noted Winona County Economic and Environmental Sustainability Director and committee member Natalie Siderius. In the final segment of Tucker's "what if" scenarios, high fuel prices lead Winonans to walk and bike to do much of their business, increasing the demand for bicycle infrastructure and neighborhood businesses.

At the Thursday, October 24 event, citizens will divide into small groups to discuss the scenarios and plans for the park, with committee members taking notes in each group, designers explained. Attendees should not expect a menu of specific design ideas to peruse and comment on. Halfway through the designers' contract, the committee's work remains largely focused on broad, general concepts. Developing a list of specific design ideas and narrowing it down to a single proposal is the next step after the forum, designers said.

At last week's meeting a few committee members expressed some concern about how the potentially controversial scenarios would be presented.

"I don't disagree that the city is going to face some of those changes," but some people may, said committee member and Winona County Planning and Environmental Services Director Jason Gilman. He noted that some predict that fuel prices will drop, not rise, because of new sources of oil like deepwater wells and hydraulic fracturing.

"It will be important for him for preface the whole discussion," Gilman said. "I just want to be assured that he does that so the public doesn't get irritated with what looks like speculation," he added.

"The purpose of this forum is input as well as education, right? Is that very clear?" asked committee member and Winona National Bank CEO Jack Richter. "There are going to be passionate people who are going to come and if they are not incorporated there are going to be some potential issues."

When the Winona Post suggested that some might not agree with the climatic changes depicted in the second scenario and asked Tucker how those people should relate to the discussion, he responded, "These are scenarios that are based on drivers, right? I can't help it if you don't want to think the world is changing. I can't help you. But we have facts and the facts behind some of these scenarios are that the river levels are changing, that's going to impact how the river is managed. [Denying] that is kind of like saying 'Well, I don't agree that the sky is blue.'"

He said the scenario addressing future climate change should not be characterized as a debate over global warming. "If people do come to that meeting, and they're right wingers, and they want to take me on on that, or something like that, great. Report that," he added.

Other committee members agreed with Tucker that the scenarios represent hard truths the city may well face in the future.

"They're not imaginary," committee member Bernadette Mahfood said of the scenarios. "I see us being affected by all three of those."

Mike Kennedy took issue with the first scenario, which refers to tourism and manufacturing, but changing river levels and rising fuel prices "are threatening, but they're real," he said.

Committee chair Frank Pomeroy said he hoped that any arguments about the factual basis of the scenarios would not distract from discussions at the forum, and expressed faith in Tucker's leadership on the project.

Committee reigns in economic speculation

Committee members did put their feet down on removing language in the draft presentation that suggested that tourism would supplant manufacturing as a dominant economic force in town.

"This one should be changed a little bit," said Siderius of a slide describing a future Winona where the tourism sector has surpassed manufacturing. The message should be "more of a dual growth that we have all sectors doing well," she stated.

"I think he's just talking about trends," said committee member and Boats and Bluegrass organizer Tom Fassbender of Tucker's slide.

"The trend is actually going the other way for manufacturing," Siderius replied, referring to recent growth in the sector and positive forecasts for its future. "This kind of sounds like manufacturing is never coming back at all."

Tourism and industry benefit each other, Kennedy pointed out. He added that the focus is not just on tourists coming to town, but on the "development of our assets" all the things that make Winona an attractive place to live and visit.

The premise of "postindustrial" Winona resurfaced in later slides. "There is that competitive theme between culture and recreation and manufacturing," committee chairman Frank Pomeroy as the group flipped through the draft presentation. The committee made notes directing the designers to eliminate such language. That "has to be revised to be [supportive of both sectors] to stay away from useless discussions," Kennedy said.

Forum Thursday, 4:30 p.m. at History Center

The forum will be "another opportunity that presents itself for citizens to come forward with ideas for the levee," said Pomeroy. The project is all about grassroots support, he said, encouraging the public to join the conversation. "It's their park. We really are interested and care about what people want in that park. That's what inspired us."

The forum will be Thursday, October 24, at the Winona County History Center. An open house will begin at 4:30 p.m., with presentation and discussion to follow at 5 p.m.

Tucker will also present a progress update to the City Council on Monday, October 21, at 5:45 p.m. 


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