Several months have passed since the public was last briefed on a project meant to beautify the Lakes Area’s main roadway, but now Imagine Iowa Great Lakes, the group heading up the improvements on behalf of its anonymous donor group, is seeking bids for work on the project’s first phase. The project’s kickoff will focus on the promenade area near Arnolds Park Amusement Park, and the group hopes to select a bidder by early 2019. The Thursday announcement indicated $10 million was set aside for the first round of improvements. The overall project treks along Highway 71 from north Milford to Spirit Lake.

“The promenade beautification will set the standard for the rest of Imagine’s projects,” project spokesman Terry Lutz, CEO of McClure Engineering, said. “It will introduce the themes that will carry through the remainder of the park and along the Highway 71 corridor.”

Lutz and Rob Gray, principal of landscape architecture firm Hoerr Schaudt, shared renderings with the public and answered questions about the project’s first phase in August. Gray said at the time the group chose to start with the Arnolds Park area after foot traffic studies showed it to be a major hub of the Lakes Area. Improvements will focus on the area’s natural beauty, historic Americana and connections to the water, according to Gray.

The Imagine Group plans to add a grove of aspen trees and major plantings of native plants. The group expects both will add to the local stormwater management. The promenade phase is also expected to include a more iconic gateway on the eastern entrance of the pathway which currently runs the length of the park’s green space, and lighted archways will be installed periodically along the walkway.

“The promenade will include designated pathways for pedestrians and bicyclists to promote multimodal movements while minimizing conflicts between these different modes,” the announcement said.

The walkway is currently split with plantings in between two paths. Gray said they have designed a unified path, which would actually be wider in terms of walkable surface. He said meadow plantings and additional trees are planned but should not interfere with the public’s view of West Lake Okoboji.

Elsewhere during this initial phase, the group plans to install a 10-foot wide boardwalk along the lakeshore, as well as a decorative fire pit niche and open, grassy areas. Plans for a brick plaza and a decorative bench crafted in the familiar silhouette of the Iowa Great Lakes have been drawn up for the east side of the park, near the sand volleyball courts. If the weather allows, the group expects to break ground on the initial phase in February of 2019, and hopes to have the work in place by the opening of the park’s 2019 season.

“The enhanced promenade will transform park visitors’ experience and will make an already exciting destination even more magical,” Lutz said.

The group also proposed converting Lake Street — the main thoroughfare through the park property — to a unified, open plaza.

“By making it one singular plaza, you provide a lot more flexibility in its design,” Gray said in August.

The group’s announcement Thursday specified no work on Lake Street will begin until the amusement park’s renovation of the Roof Garden is complete, putting completion of the proposed plaza somewhere around the spring of 2020.

Outside the park area, landscaping work south of the Arnolds Park bridge is expected to last into the spring of 2019. Plantings and other improvements along Highway 71 near the newly improved Dickinson County Trail head are expected to begin after the thaw and last into the spring of 2020.