Updated: Nov 21, 2021
I grew up in a town south of the twin cities in Minnesota called Owatonna. I was surrounded by architecture and didn't even notice. It was never talked about in my little world, but the city has always been full of historical buildings, including one of the original 8 Jewel box banks designed by Louis Sullivan. It wasn't until 2015 that the downtown district was named historical. When I return to Owatonna now, all I can see is the architecture, how it is preserved, and the labor that went into creating each building.
In the fall of 2019 it was announced that the city had plans to revitalize the downtown district. "A functional framework for implementing future public realm improvements downtown," was the goal of the project, the full study here: Streetscape-Study- (owatonna.mn.us). Many of the buildings had been neglected and were in need of a facelift. Non other than Old Town Bagels, OTB. OTB is a small café that my parents own, it sits on the main drag of Owatonna, behind the camera in the photos above left. It has been a bagel bakery for 21 years. The first 5 being Bagel Brothers, the next 10 as Old Town Bagels ran by the Satterlands, and the last 6 years ran by my parents, Mark and Stacy Wilson.
Above is the new location of Old Town Bagels, right next door to the previous. The new location is at least double the size and the kitchen is much more or a functional space. Sales have doubled and the street in front isn't even completed. Below left is the old space, and the right is the new on the inside. My parents decided not to hire an interior designer and did most of the interior choosing's themselves. They wanted to keep the same feel while giving more seating and light to the room, this created a cozy, clean, comfortable space. The back right of the new space shares the same décor the old shop featured, the rest of the wall is empty ready to display local artwork.
In addition to Old Town Bagel getting a new space, streetscapes also involves many other projects: the building of a hotel next door, a high end dinner spot on the corner, updated retail spaces for rent, a parking garage, new landscaping, and a much needed refresh in circulation. ISG is the firm taking on the job and has considered many things during planning. Everything from parking, lighting, alleys, and plants are receiving attention.
Changing the parking from 90 degree to parallel caused a rift in Owatonna and voters were split. Switching parking styles loses a few spots, but allows extra square footage for roadways, sidewalks, and even the addition of a bike lane. Widening the sidewalks allows for more greenery to line the streets, more space for people to walk, increasing ADA circulation, and sidewalk seating.
Downtown Owatonna's central point is a square park. The park itself holds a historic water fountain, but it is also framed by the courthouse and firehouse to the south. Both buildings are beautiful masonry works considered historic. The over growth of trees block many of the views downtown, including signage and the sightline to the south. ISG has responded to this in their plan, linked above, recognizing which plants are good for the area and will continue to thrive, while recommending replacements for those that are overgrown and struggling.
ISG plans to be done with the project next summer, in 2022. It will bring a much needed revival to the downtown space of Owatonna. Setting a foundation for future growth will increase small businesses and spur population growth. The improved circulation will increase tourism, pedestrians, and bikers, this will create a healthier and more active community.