DOT GRANTS CITY $600K FORÂ MAIN STREET PROJECT
JEREMY WALTNER – PUBLISHER
The city of Freeman’s Main Street project received an enormous boost last week when the Transportation Commission of the South Dakota Department of Transportation (DOT) voted to award the city a Community Access Grant totaling $600,000 — the amount requested earlier this year and the maximum amount available through the DOT.
The funding is a major boon for a capital project estimated to cost $3.9 million, according to the grant application submitted by the city via Brian McGinnis of District III Planning and Development.
The proposed project would see the downtown roadway rebuilt from the North County Road south to Fifth Street, as well as one block of Railway southwest to Juniper.
An alternative bid would include one block to the west and east of Main Street on Third and Fourth streets; that add-on is part of the $3.9 million estimate.
“This moves it forward,” Doug Uecker, finance officer with the city of Freeman, said of the DOT grant. “I’m not able to say 100% — the council will decide that. But this definitely keeps it moving forward.”
“This is money we needed to get and funding we were counting on,” said Carol Eisenbeis, the marketing and development director with the city of Freeman who had a major hand in the grant application process this past summer. “We are very excited about what this means for our project.”
The city of Freeman was one of seven communities to receive Community Access Grants. Projects in Lemmon, Wall, Corona and Kennebec also received 100% of their $600,000 requests; Canistota received $550,000 of its $600,000 request while Miller received its full request of $387,700.
All are for projects that include roadway and utility improvements in the business district.
The Transportation Commission that decides how to distribute the $3.7 million funds available through Community Access Grants received 27 applications totaling $15.6 million in requests.
Paul Korn of Sayre Associates, the engineering firm hired by the city to oversee the project, said there is never a guarantee that a municipality like Freeman will be funded at the requested level — or even funded at all.
“You really don’t know,” he said. “You’re up against a lot of different projects and you never know what to expect. But the committee recognized the need for the transportation and ADA improvements — I think that is evident by the good score Freeman received.”
Indeed, the city of Freeman received the highest score among all applicants during the Transportation Commission’s deliberation. Scores of those awarded Community Access Grants were as follows:
The city of Freeman’s application included a traffic study, a listing of the businesses on Main Street “and the investment the business community has made already,” Eisenbeis said. “Our newer buildings or new building fronts represent a high level of community pride and investment.
“The street surface itself stands in stark contrast to that.”
Photos showing the condition of the downtown roadway that were also included with the grant application illustrated that point.
“The other really big thing that helped us out a lot is the fact that we are putting skin in the game,” Eisenbeis said. “Freeman is committing financially to this — more than $2 million up front. That’s how grants work; they want to know that your community has decided what it wants to commit to and has made an investment in that.”
Not only did the city agree to fund the project at a high level in February, five months later the council unanimously passed Resolution 2021-04 which formally committed the municipality to the project.
Then and now
Talk of rebuilding Main Street goes back to the summer of 2020, when newly-elected mayor Michael Walter encouraged the city council to spend down some of its $5.7 million in cash reserves and suggested there was no better way to do so than on a new downtown roadway.
He noted that Sayre Associates had conducted a Main Street feasibility study in 2013 that city officials ultimately shelved.
“If we’ve got the money,” Walter told the council, “I can’t think of a reason we’re not doing it.”
Last November, John Clem of District III Planning and Development told city leadership that if they continued planning for the project, grant funding could be awarded in 2021.
While there never appeared to be question among the council that rebuilding Main Street was the right thing to do, there was discussion — and disagreement — about the scope of the project.
Specifically, members of the public and city council expressed concern about the idea of “streetscaping” — that is, landscaped corners and extended curbs at several intersections included in the original design presented by Sayre Associates.
A public meeting on the matter in April resulted in comments both in favor of, and strongly against, the streetscaping concept that Korn said would improve both aesthetics and safety.
Those opposed cited primarily maintenance issues and snow removal challenges as their reasons why.
In response, Walter formed a task force to discuss the pros and cons of the additional landscaping in the spirit of compromise, and a new design was presented to the city council in October. The designed was approved 4-2, with councilors Charles Gering and Terry Jacobsen objecting, citing previously shared concerns.
Last week’s word of the DOT grant is the latest development in a project that has now been on the city council table for 18 months — and one that Korn has been thrilled to work on.
“As a native of Freeman, this has been a special project for me,” he said. “Growing up here, I have driven down that street many times and frequented businessses often. I’m excited to be part of the transformation and the catalyst that a new Main Street will be for Freeman going forward.”
As for what happens next, Korn said everything is on track for a 2022 construction. The final design will be wrapped up in the next month with bids scheduled to go out in early February.
“That will be the next big milestone,” Korn said.
If the city accepts a bid, construction would likely begin in spring.
If the city does not accept a bid, the project could be re-bid again as is, or the council could choose to reduce the scope of the project or do it in multiple phases, Korn said.