Austin’s gateway to the future: Committee to hold meeting asking for public input on proposed visitors center
Published 10:30 am Wednesday, July 9, 2014
A Vision 2020 committee is looking to get community feedback on its vision for the proposed visitors center to welcome people to Austin.
The Visitors Center committee — a subcommittee of the Gateway to Austin committee — is hosting a 1 p.m. meeting Thursday in Austin Public Library’s large meeting room to discuss the makeup of the center and the committee’s plans.
“We want this visitors center to be a face of [the] Austin, Mower County area,” Gateway to Austin committee Chairman John Gray said.
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The subcommittee leading the visitors center project compiled a list of things it thinks the center should have, and now it wants to see if the public agrees.
“We’re looking for input in the community on whether we’re on the right track,” Gray said.
The subcommittee proposes a unique, attractive building that would provide a place for people to relax and learn about Austin and Mower County. The committee has outlined several features it’d like to see in the center: restrooms; an animal run; conference rooms; a small auditorium; a small walking trail with informational postings; indoor and outdoor children’s activities; an RV dumping station; a gift shop; a reception desk; displays and interactive maps about area locations; parking for cars, trucks, RVs and trailers; and more.
The Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau would be located in the visitors center.
The public is invited to attend Thursday’s meeting and offer feedback. Gray estimated the proposed visitors center could cost about $4 to $5 million.
“We’re just looking for input,” Gray said. “We want to do it right.”
Improving Austin’s gateway
The visitors center is only part of Gateway to Austin’s focus.
In 2012, leaders originally envisioned something similar to an Illinois Tollway Oasis rest station over Interstate 90 in Austin, but that plan proved costly and complicated.
“It just became a huge monster to try and accomplish something like that,” Gray said.
The committee quickly shifted focus to the visitors center, signage and the Interstate 90 corridor through Austin.
The group is also working to spruce up the Interstate 90 corridor through Austin, particularly through a manual for the architectural design of bridges crossing Interstate 90 through Austin. It’s set to receive copies of the manual next month.
Whenever a bridge is replaced in the corridor, the committee will work with the Minnesota Department of Transportation to see that all bridges are designed with the same lighting, railing and a light buff cement coloration to give a unified, appealing look. The designs will include a curved appearance on some bridges, though the roads won’t actually be curved. Some of the bridges will also feature 10-foot wide sidewalks.
“All these bridges are going to look very attractive and look very nice,” Gray said.
MnDOT pays about $1 to $2.5 million to replace bridges, according to Gray, and the Gateway to Austin committee plans to spend an additional $138,000 per bridge — less than originally expected — for the added amenities to the bridges.
The bridges will be replaced per MnDOT’s schedule. The 11th Drive Northeast bridge is set to be replaced in 2016, for example, though that’s subject to change.
The Gateway to Austin committee will also spend $400,000 to landscape the Interstate 90 corridor through Austin by adding plants, shrubs and trees at off ramps and through town to improve the appearance of the roadway.
To Gray, the corridor is important, as it’s the first thing people see when coming into town.
“That’s the front yard to Austin,” he said
Much of the landscaping work will be between Fourth and 14th streets northwest, as that features several businesses.
After that, the committee will also work on a branding campaign that will include signage throughout the community to lead people to various destinations in Austin like the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center, the Mower County Historical Society and more. The committee eventually plans to put up new signs to welcome people into Austin on the far east and west ends of the city on Interstate 90.
Though the committee is working on several projects, Thursday’s meeting will only focus on the visitors center.