St. Helena’s infamously uneven downtown sidewalks will be repaired thanks to a $1.2 million federal grant.

The city of St. Helena and a team of consultants are looking for input to guide an extreme makeover of the downtown’s public spaces.

Fueled by a $1.2 million grant to fix the sidewalks, the downtown streetscape plan will also cover parking, signs, benches, public art, lighting, trees, underground utilities, and other elements of the downtown environment from Mitchell Drive to Pine Street.

There will be various opportunities for the public to share their thoughts over the next few months, including a community open house from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday, March 22, at the Richie Block, 1335 Main St. (formerly Goodman’s). The open house will have a drop-in format, so people can visit anytime between 10 and 2.

The City Council will discuss the project at 6 p.m. Tuesday, March 12, at Vintage Hall. A website devoted to the project, cultivatesthelena.com, is going live this week.

At this early stage consultants are looking for input on what people like, what could be improved, and what could be added, said consultant Linda Gates of Gates and Associates, the landscape architects hired by the city.

Participation by the community and businesses is crucial, Gates told the Planning Commission on Tuesday.

“The more people who are participating and giving input, the more likely we are to come to the right solution that’s perfect for this community,” Gates said.

The process has to be driven by what the community wants and at the same time support the downtown’s economic health, she said.

“There’s no point in doing downtown improvements if you basically kill the businesses during construction,” Gates said.

The design phase will be guided by input from the public, a specially formed steering committee, and downtown business people, with periodic “check-ins” with the Planning Commission and City Council, Gates said.

Meanwhile, the Public Works Department and an engineering consultant are working with Caltrans, since Main Street is also a state highway.

A plan is scheduled to go to the council this summer, followed by more than a year of drawing up plans and coordinating with Caltrans. The plans would go out to bid in late 2020, followed by first-phase construction in spring 2021.

The project will have to contend with underground utilities, including sewer laterals that are notoriously susceptible to damage from tree roots.

“We’re looking at all the underground utilities,” said Public Works Director Erica Ahmann Smithies. “The goal is to replace all those service laterals and to engage PG&E and Caltrans now.”

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