ST. JOSEPH -- Drive down Minnesota Street in downtown St. Joseph and you'll notice a new structure in the road. A parklet has been installed in a couple of parking spaces in front of the Local Blend coffee shop.

The idea for the project started about a year ago during an urban planning class at the College of St. Benedict and St. John's University.

Photo by WJON.com's Jim Maurice

Professor Matt Lindstrom says outdoor spaces have become even more popular since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

The importance of outdoor space and outdoor places for people to congregate really came to the forefront, and so you see more areas and cities exploring the idea of not just outdoor dining but kind of creating intentional spaces for the public.

Lindstrom says parklets are not a new idea, in fact, he says San Francisco has over 60 of them.

Photo by WJON.com's Jim Maurice

Volunteer builder Tom Kuhn says he found a lot of resourced materials for the project.

I spent a lot of time online on Craig's List Marketplace and driving to all kinds of places out in the middle of fields to meet farmers, or in a steel shed, to say, "oh yeah, this will work"...

College of St. Benedict junior Crystal Diaz is one of the students who worked on the project and she hopes it helps connect people in the area.

As an out-of-state student, I am really excited about this project because it really immerses out-of-state folks with the St. Joseph community larger than the St. Ben's and St. John's community.

St. John's University senior David-Earl Russell says the early feedback has been positive.

When we were in the middle of building it people were asking what it was and saying they wanted to come back to see it.  We told them they could sit if they wanted, so people started using it right away.

Kuhn says he has plans to add a few more elements to the parklet too.

Yes, we've got party lights coming, and a solar panel coming, and lots of flowers in the flower boxes.

No city tax dollars were used to build the parklet, but they did need to get the city's approval to build it in the street. They did get a donation from the McCarthy Center at St. John's and a grant from Stearns County Public Health.

Photo by WJON.com's Jim Maurice

The parklet is a pilot project and a research project in action. If it is well received this year, more parklets could be installed in downtown St. Joseph in the future.

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