Downtown Groundbreaking

Downtown business owners Grant Schultz (Costas Candies), Deb and Matt Gillard (RE/MAX), Char Esch (Central Park Coffee), Tanya Henson (Hat Chic Clothing Co.), Dan Kubista (Wagner’s), Mark Wilson (Old Town Bagels), Nicole Winter (Urban Loft), Al Martin (building owner of The Music Space), and Erin Gillespie and Justin Ohnstad (ERA Gillespie) throw dirt in solidarity at the groundbreaking ceremony for three major downtown Owatonna projects beginning this month. (Annie Granlund/southernminn.com)

As a couple hundred of people gathered Thursday evening at the greenspace on North Cedar Avenue, Federated Insurance Chairman Jeff Fetters described it as a “historic day” for Owatonna.

After hearing from city officials and developers behind the major projects coming to downtown, groups from the Owatonna City Council, the project drivers, the local chamber, and the business community tossed the first ceremonious shovels of dirt on Owatonna’s future development. The groundbreaking ceremony kicked off the beginning of the downtown hotel and Pearl Street apartment complex projects, as well as marked the beginning of the city’s streetscape project.

While the moment was celebrated with comments from major community leaders, the group of downtown business owners best embodied how these projects will reshape the community as they tossed up both dirt and laughter during the ceremony. Lisa Cochran, the co-chair of Owatonna Business Partnership, said that the evening was a true testament of the camaraderie among the local business owners.

“We truly are all in this together,” Cochran said, adding that the overwhelming attitude of all three of the upcoming projects is nothing but positivity and excitement. “You can approach any obstacle so much better with a positive attitude and by working together to have everyone succeed. This is going to revitalize our downtown and we are ready for it.”

Cochran, who is the corporate sales manager at Hat Chic Clothing Co. on the 100 block of North Cedar Avenue, said now more than ever businesses are having to lean on one another as they prepare for months of heavy construction to take place outside their storefronts. Preparation for the construction began months ago, Cochran said, and OBP is ready to promote bringing people downtown.

“We knew this was going to happen, so we started brainstorming on how we would handle it,” Cochran said. With help from the Owatonna Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism and Tri M Graphics, the “Building Our Future” tagline and logos have started to spread through the community to help get everyone excited about the upcoming changes. In addition, parking maps have been printed and laminated to post at downtown businesses to help customers know more about their parking options during construction.

“We even have the areas color coded for times so people can see exactly where there is hourly parking or extended parking,” Cochran said, noting that the concerns with parking during and following the streetscape construction has been one of the only points of contention for business owners and customers alike. Once the streetscape project is completed, the three blocks will lose 17 parking stalls with nearly half of them being from the 300 block.

“This map will help our customers, but also our staff so we can encourage them to seek the long-term parking and leave the short term open for customers,” Cochran said. “We are looking to have them posted in some areas along the streets, too, so I think this will really help with that whole parking situation.”

Cochran said OBP, whose mission statement is to “promote fun events and experiences in Owatonna and involve as many people as possible,” will also make a push to revamp the “support Owatonna” campaign that ran last year. The campaign encourages people to purchase a canvas bag or T-shirt with the slogan “love local, shop local, eat local, support Owatonna” and receive discounts or specials are participating businesses. There will also be ongoing member spotlights on the OBP Facebook page, highlighting different businesses both downtown and throughout the city to keep the buzz going about supporting local businesses.

Above all, Cochran said the biggest component OBP is implementing during the upcoming construction season is for business owners to rely on one another. One example is Matt and Deb Gillard offering their business, RE/MAX Venture Owatonna, as a walk-through point when the 100 block is torn up this fall. While many businesses do not have a back entrance, Cochran said the Gillards felt they could provide this option to allow people to park in the back parking lot and have easy access to their favorite downtown businesses.

“That is the epitome of being there for one another,” Cochran said. “That is how we are able to keep our really positive attitude for these really exciting changes.”

The groundbreaking ceremony on Thursday evening also marked the first Downtown Thursday event for 2021. Vendors lined the three blocks of North Cedar Avenue down to Central Park where live music was provided by Rachel Schroeder and the Mark Cameron Band. The next Downtown Thursday is scheduled for July 1, beginning at 5 p.m.

Reach Reporter Annie Granlund at 507-444-2378 or follow her on Twitter @AnnieGranlund. ©Copyright 2021 APG Media of Southern Minnesota.

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