Outdoor community night draws enthusiastic crowd

Jamie Jachimiec emphasized the word “ambience” as she talked about what she would like to see in Princeton.
She suggested that Princeton could use a wine bar or an all-night coffee shop.
Or simply that some places in Princeton could stay open after 5 or 6 p.m. so a parent doesn’t have to drive to the Twin Cities and run up a big baby-sitting bill for a night out, she added.
Jachimiec was in one of seven groups assembled during the Outdoor Community Night event on Thursday, Aug. 14. The groups expressed what they like and don’t like about the community and what they would like to see Princeton become in 20 years.
Jachimiec, holding a baby as she spoke, was one of the approximately 140 people who attended the event, which took place in and around the Central Minnesota Art Co-op on Sixth Avenue South.

Many watch the Art Co-op's move on the co-op's summer project of painting a mural on the north wall of the co-op. Artist Amy Cunningham led the project, teaching art skills during the process
Many watch the Art Co-op’s move on the co-op’s summer project of painting a mural on the north wall of the co-op. Artist Amy Cunningham led the project, teaching art skills during the process

The Art Co-op capped the evening with a movie on its new outdoor movie screen on the north side of its building. The movie showed how a number of volunteers, mostly teenagers, painted the large mural on the Art Co-op’s north wall this summer. The mural has a scene of vintage cars parked at a drive-in movie. The Art Co-op also showed a preview of a modified version of the movie “Grease,” which the co-op will show on Sept. 26 starting at 9 p.m.
Outdoor Community Night was the first step in gathering the community’s input to give to a group called the Minnesota Design Team, which will be in Princeton Sept. 25-28. The team goes around to communities to try to help them make improvements. The team looks over a town, meets with a cross section of groups and listens to what the residents think of their community and what they would like to see changed in it. The team then meets by itself to come up with suggestions for improvement projects and possible ways to carry them out.
The effort comes at a time when downtown Princeton has a lot of vacant store fronts.
The Initiative Fund is providing a $4,000 grant to make the Design Team work possible.
Residents will have another chance to give their input to the Design Team at a community potluck and town hall meeting at Immanuel Lutheran Church at 401 S. Eighth Ave. on Friday, Sept. 26, starting at 6 p.m.
People’s thoughts about Princeton came fast during Outdoor Community Night. As group members expressed their thoughts, someone placed the comments on large sheets of paper.
One woman summed up what she would like Princeton to be by saying, “a thriving, multi-generational community.” She also expressed what was repeated by others that evening: maintain Princeton’s historic elements. Many said they liked the instances of older buildings being preserved and given new uses, such as the former middle school. It is now a combination of apartments, fitness center and senior dining center where senior citizens get a nutritious noon meal five days per week.
Another wish expressed was to nourish a small-town feeling with historic preservation, but at the same time make the town “high tech” such as having fast Internet.
The desire for parks came out strong. Mille Lacs County Economic Development Coordinator Richard Baker suggested that the first row of parking stalls just inside the west edge of the Princeton Mall parking lot be turned into a mini park.
Many said they like Mark Park, but some offered suggestions for improving it. One person talked about experiencing sand burs at the park, and another said Mark Park needs more shade.
Sometimes the problem may be a lack of signs to inform people who are new to the city of what it all has to offer.
One woman said she really loves the large wooden playground complexes she has found in some other cities and asked why Princeton is lacking in that regard.
Someone in her group told her about Mark Park’s big playground area and she admitted that she didn’t know the playground existed. All she noticed at the park entrance was the baseball field so she kept driving past, she said. Someone responded that perhaps better signs are needed there.
City Council Member Victoria Hallin, a leader in one discussion group, said she would like to see the downtown have lighting that is more quaint and ornamental.
Jeff Reynolds called for more trails to hike and bike on, as well as a way to fill the empty commercial spaces in the business district, and more “good paying jobs” in the city.
Dick Young suggested the city annex more land so it has room to expand. One person suggested the city and an adjacent township or more merge.
Kay Trunk called for a large community center with many amenities for recreation. Another woman suggested having a community center with an indoor play activity for children for wintertime.
Basic infrastructure was sometimes brought up, especially the town’s sidewalks. Seventeen-year-old Shawna Kocisko commented how sidewalks are intermittent in Princeton and that many of the sidewalks that do exist are not smooth enough for in-line skating. Carol Ossell’s group called for a roundabout intersection on Highway 95 near Wal-Mart. Many suggested more crosswalks, and at least one called for bike trails to schools.
Many wanted more restaurant options in Princeton, with Jachimiec suggesting that a great Thai restaurant would help attract people. One person suggested getting an organic restaurant, while others called for more “upscale dining” choices.
Many said they would like the city to have something that makes it a destination so that fewer people are leaving for their entertainment.
Some suggested building facades on Princeton’s two indoor shopping centers to make them more attractive.
After the group discussions ended, all assembled in the parking lot on the north side of the Art Co-op building to hear the leaders of each group read off what their groups expressed.
Scott Suhsen said some in his group value the city’s clock tower, splash park and the “safe feeling that people have” in Princeton.
The wish for a community swimming pool was often expressed. More jobs, more entertainment, including some small music venues are desired, Ossell added, as she read off her group’s wants. Her group and others often mentioned wanting a movie theater in Princeton, one young woman saying she doesn’t like having to drive so far to see movies.
Another suggestion was to make better use of the Rum River and its West Branch that converge in Princeton.
Many said they like the Mille Lacs County Historical Society’s depot museum in Princeton and one person suggested expanding it.
The appearance of the town seemed to be big on people’s list and one person said they would like to see the gypsum board reclamation operation along old Highway 18 in the city have complete screening.
Someone said that in 20 years from now they would like Princeton to look like Lanesboro, which is in the southeastern part of the state. It is known for its many bed and breakfasts, quaint shops and even a live theater.
Princeton Area Chamber of Commerce President Bob Michael led one of the groups, and his list of suggestions included lowering taxes but also called for amenities such as more flower gardens.
Princeton Community Development Director Carie Fuhrman thanked the crowd for the big turnout and enthusiastic input.
“You care about the community and you care about the community’s future,” she said. She also thanked the many sponsors including Bremer Bank, Peoples Bank of Commerce and Sherburne State Bank.
Russ Wicktor, who lives on the edge of Princeton, commented afterward that while he liked the enthusiasm shown, it is easy to talk and wish for things. For many things to happen, money and commitment are essential, otherwise too many things just remain talk, he explained.
Wendy Bursch, Art Co-op executive director, spoke about the power of grant money to help projects, including the $8,664 grant the East Central Regional Arts Council gave to paint the Art Co-op’s building mural. The arts council distributes grants out of the state’s Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.