By BRIAN JOHNSON
BridgeTower Media Newswires
MINNEAPOLIS – Across the Mississippi River from Wisconsin’s Hagar City, the Minnesota city of Red Wing is seeking to become Minnesota’s top historic river-town destination.
In their striving for that lofty status, city officials are staking their hopes on a project that promises to touch on everything from riverfront improvements to repairs to a historic theater.
The city received $4.4 million in state bonding this year to complete the second phase of its $15.4 million “River Town Renaissance” project, which is intended to spur tourism and economic development along the Mississippi River.
“It combines multiple projects that affect our riverfront and our arts community,” said Ron Seymour, Red Wing financial solutions analyst. The city combined the projects to make the work more efficient, he said.
As part of the project’s $6.3 million second phase, crews will refresh the historic Sheldon Theatre of Performing Arts, at 443 W. Third St., near the riverfront. The bulk of the planned interior work will be finished next summer, when the theater is in its off season.
The Sheldon Theatre was built in 1904 with a donation to the city by the local “grain baron” T.B. Sheldon, according to its website. It’s “among the oldest operating theaters in Minnesota” and “the first municipally owned in the U.S.,” according to the site. The theater was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.
The project will have crews bringing restrooms into compliance with modern requirements for accessibility. Elsewhere, it will restore some of theatre’s murals and other artistic features, Seymour said.
Taylors Falls-based Claybaugh Preservation Architecture Inc. is working with the city on the theater.
But before the project can get underway, it must win approval from the State Historic Preservation Office. Should all goes as planned, the work should be ready to bid out in January and construction should start in June 2018, according to the city.
Separately, $1.4 million worth of previously awarded city money is being used to give the theater roof and window improvements, Seymour said.
The River Town Renaissance project’s second phase also includes a new dock and pedestrian improvements at Levee Park along the Mississippi River. The new dock will accommodate larger riverboats – which play a big role in the city’s tourism industry. North Carolina-based Kimley Horn is supplying engineering services.
The riverfront work is complicated in part because it requires permits from various state and federal agencies, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Coast Guard, Seymour said.
“That permitting process can be pretty substantial,” he said.
During the project’s $9.1 million first phase, which was completed last fall, crews rebuilt a flood-prone part of Levee Road running along the riverfront from Bay Point Park to Levee Park. They also reconstructed the Red Wing Riverfront Trail in the same area.
Seymour said the renovation project is being paid for using a mix of state, federal and local money. About 50 percent of the total is coming from the state, an expenditure that could happen only after project backers managed to convince the Legislature that the development has regional benefits.
“I would say over 50 percent of the attendees are from outside the (local) ZIP code,” Seymour said. “It’s a regional draw.”
The project should draw more tourists to Red Wing and other areas along the Mississippi River, state Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, and chair of the House Capital Investment Committee, said Monday.
“I think it will have that impact,” Urdahl said. “I think it helps in the vitality of Red Wing, which is a regional center.”
The entire project is expected to wrap up in fall 2019 or spring 2020.
Also in Red Wing, construction activity is ramping up on the $63.4 million Red Wing bridge project, a new Highway 63 crossing over the Mississippi River between Red Wing and Hagar City, Wis.
Seymour said the bridge project is “synergistic and complementary” to what is occurring elsewhere in the city. But it won’t have any direct effects on the construction work called for by the River Town Renaissance plans, he said.