Putting Downtown Willmar on the Map

Sarah Swedburg | Willmar Main Street / City of Willmar

Sarah Swedburg is using her skills in geography to map out a plan for Downtown Willmar and positively influence the people and places around her.

Point A

Sarah grew up in the Bemidji/Walker area. She graduated from Bemidji State where she majored in geography. She is well-traveled and has done a lot of different things, working with people, geographic information system (GIS) mapping, and planning.

Her husband brought her to Southern Minnesota, where she searched for a position that was more people oriented. Sarah is the City Planner for the City of Willmar and deals with the planning commission, moving and expanding of businesses, land use and development, and zoning.

When and how did Willmar Main Street come along?

“Willmar entered into a Main Street designated contract in April of 2018.”

“In order to be a part of this contract, there are annual dues made to Minnesota Main Street and Main Street America. There’s also a list of criteria to be a main street community. We need designated staff, a diversified budget, community backing + involvement from several different entities around the city, which are reflected on our executive board. This program is open to all MN cities but geared towards greater MN cities.”

“After a few months in my new role as City Planner, I became Willmar Main Street Director. Willmar has been a designated main street city for 8 years. It was run by a separate non-profit, but in 2018 the city chose to make it a city run program. It is the first program to be housed within a city in Minnesota.”

How does being a Main Street City positively impact our area?

“The biggest benefit is the network; being a Main Street City opens pathways to connect with other Main Street Cities and be a part of a national network. Part of this cohort is dedicated to making downtown areas thrive. Willmar is now eligible for grants and funding projects to help kick start initiatives. This program provides a framework to invest in our downtown.”

“Willmar Main Street exists to promote downtown Willmar as the foundation of our community.

What’s the overall vision or goal for this new initiative? Who’s a part of it?

“To cultivate connections, create unique experiences and build community.”

“Willmar Main Street is a volunteer led initiative housed within the City of Willmar. It’s membership is made of downtown Willmar businesses and downtown supporters.”

What phase are you in now, and what’s next?

“We’re really in the foundation building phase. We’re solidifying our brand, organizing subcommittees and volunteers, and establishing partnerships to provide resources and events downtown.”

“Our first big initiative is Artists on Main Street, which is a creative placemaking program that involves local artists to help us work towards creating more everyday gathering spaces downtown. We were awarded a grant from the Preservation Alliance of MN and Springboard for the Arts with support from the Bush Foundation, and 14 local artists have been selected to complete projects downtown. You can watch our Facebook page for updates on upcoming project installations and showings!”

What do you love about your work?

“I like so much of it, but mainly I love building connections with our downtown businesses and the people behind them. I’m excited to bring more awareness to the incredible work and cultures that downtown offers!”