As temperatures drop, officials and business owners in Stillwater are looking for ways to keep locals and visitors warmed up to spending time—and money—downtown this winter. 

The recent decision of Ice Castles not to locate in Stillwater this season due to flooding concerns has businesses worried, said Greater Stillwater Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Robin Anthony. Two years ago, the attraction brought 100,000 people, and $4.7 million, to town, according to organizers. Without that draw, it could be tough to keep the home fires burning.

Anthony met with business owners, members of the Stillwater Lights Steering Committee and city staff October 25 to brainstorm ways to make downtown Stillwater more attractive to residents and visitors from November to March. They hope that moving the Stillwater Lights Tunnel, a festive display started last year, to the pedestrian plaza near the Christmas tree, hanging garland and banners, and temporarily lighting up buildings, storefronts, trees, fences, poles and even rooftops will bring visitors downtown. (Any permanent lighting or alterations would have to be approved by the city’s Heritage Preservation Commission.)

Although the Chestnut Plaza is unavailable this year due to lift bridge reconstruction, Anthony said the group hopes to decorate it in future years, calling it “the heart of Stillwater.”

In addition to the Twinkle Parade Dec. 7, downtown is host to Hometown for the Holiday events every Saturday in December. Other ideas discussed: a snowman building contest, visits from Winter Carnival players, snowshoeing and bonfires in the park in coordination with local nonprofits. 

In their Nov. 5 council meeting, city officials agreed to work with the Chamber, the Lights Committee and Independent Business Association to keep the downtown vital this winter. Details of the special event permit for the holiday activities will be brought back for formal approval at the Council’s next meeting. 

The Council also directed City Administrator Tom McCarty to pull together various entities for discussion about the future of Lens Flare Stillwater, a web-based free app launched in 2016 by Bob Molenda of Grant. The technology lets users “visit” historic locations for a virtual tour of times past. Because the group is losing its fiscal sponsor at the end of this year, Molenda said, they are seeking another nonprofit to “park” their funds.

Former Councilmember Doug Menikheim said Lens Flare Stillwater enables people “to carry Stillwater history in their purse or their pocket.” Stillwater is the only city in the Midwest, the United States and possibly in the nation to utilize the technology, Molenda added.

“The fact is that the group that has put it together is not interested in operationalizing this asset. They are a group of creators and innovators and they have done what they wanted to do,” Menikheim told the Council. “The work they have completed is worth tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of dollars and they’ve done it all voluntarily. They were in it to serve their community and now the best way is for the community to pick up the work they have accomplished and make it work - put it out in front so people who come into town are aware of it.”

Meanwhile, the Council learned that the possible presence of two endangered species has delayed the St. Croix riverbank stabilization and riverwalk project until late 2020. 

According to Public Works Director Shawn Sanders, there are outstanding issues before the Army Corps of Engineers will issue a permit for the project, which has been designed to stabilize the shoreline along 300-400 feet of riverbank, protect a primary sanitary sewer line threatened by erosion, and increase pedestrian safety along the trail. Among them: a survey of endangered species, to include the Northern Long-Eared Bat and Higgins Eye Pearlymussel. 

Due to weather and water temperatures, the survey cannot be done until June, Sanders said. The late start shouldn’t jeopardize the $1.65 million in partial state funding received for the project, he added.

The Higgins Eye Pearlymussel, a freshwater mussel found in deep water with moderate currents, was added to the endangered species list in 1976. The Northern Long Eared Bat, one of the species most impacted by white-nose disease, was listed in 2015.

In other actions, the city council:

  • Held first reading of a zoning text amendment allowing dog training facilities to be located in the business park industrial district by conditional use permit.
  • Denied a request by residents of Westridge Circle to allow parking in the cul de sac, based on state statute requiring that vehicles be parked parallel to a curb within 12 inches.
  • Voted to replace parking ramp gate equipment with an internet-based pay system operated from the user’s mobile phone.
  • Saw the oath given to new firefighters Jake England, Anthony Harrington, Ryan Sarner and Anthony Wald. 

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