Downtown to get 50 new trees

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May 3, 2004 // UPDATED 1:27 pm - April 25, 2007
By: Scott Russell
Scott Russell

Downtown will get approximately 50 new trees through a $100,000 federal grant to cool the city's core, city and federal officials announced.

Planting more trees Downtown would help reduce "the heat island effect," reduce storm water runoff and improve the city's livability, according to the city's grant application to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The Downtown landscape has very little open ground. Buildings, streets, sidewalks and plazas absorb heat and retain it longer than vegetated areas, the application said. That

hot hardscape increases summer air

conditioning costs.

The city plans to plant the new trees along three blocks of the light-rail transit (LRT) line, said Michael McLaughlin, a Downtown Council staff member involved with the project. The city has targeted three blocks on the north side of South 5th Street: two blocks between Marquette and 3rd avenues south, and a third between 4th and 5th avenues south.

"Those areas were selected because the sidewalks were widened as part of the LRT project," McLaughlin said. "They are extra wide."

Downtown is a harsh environment for a tree. The tall buildings create a hot, windy environment with sun reflecting off windows. The city typically plants Downtown trees in small grates that neither support extensive root growth nor collect much rainwater.

The city will use the federal grant to create larger, longer open beds, McLaughlin said. They will provide more root space, add pervious surface (reducing storm water runoff) and increase tree survival.

Spending $100,000 for 50 trees works out to $2,000 each. The trees themselves cost $300 each, or $15,000 total, McLaughlin said. Most of the federal grant -- approximately $73,000 -- will pay for design and construction: ripping up existing (and recently laid) sidewalk, excavating soils, building a protective curbing and adding special "structural" soils that prevent soil compaction and support root growth.

The grant also will pay $13,000 to prepare a "best practices" city ordinance for greening surface parking lots and to evaluate the project.

The city also plans to use the money for scattered site plantings, including infill in the South Washington Avenue median east of Marquette Avenue South.

The project is part of Mayor R.T. Rybak's ongoing effort to plant more trees. He announced the city would reach its 2004 goal of 5,000 new trees, if all the scheduled spring and fall plantings take place.