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Grand Forks business group to introduce, seek ideas at Downtown Day

Community leaders are looking to bring excitement and improvements to downtown Grand Forks, and they’re going to introduce many of their ideas Thursday.

The Downtown Development Association of Grand Forks is hosting “Downtown Day” at the Empire Arts Center Thursday to present a vision and cultivate ideas for downtown.

The event will feature Doug Burgum, founder and chairman of Kilbourne Group in Fargo, which played a significant role in the revitalization of downtown Fargo, said Jonathan Holth, president of the Grand Forks DDA’s board of directors and a downtown business owner.

Other speakers will include Mayor Mike Brown, Grand Forks City Council President Hal Gershman and officers of the DDA. The event, which is free and open to the public, will also include a conversation for all community members to voice their ideas about downtown, Holth said.

“We want to build downtown into a destination district,” Holth said.


Although the DDA is having its launch event Thursday, the group has been working for about a year on supporting downtown, Holth said. It has already completed some projects such as cigarette disposals on the street and a community Christmas tree lighting.

And the public can expect more as the DDA continues to grow, Holth said. This summer, the group hopes to organize improved maintenance of downtown streets and parks, including volunteer clean-up days, and more music and family-friendly events.

The city of Grand Forks recently approved $75,000 for the DDA. Those funds and the significant amount of private funds that have been raised will partly be put toward the envisioned community projects and hiring an executive director, Holth said.

The DDA received about 50 applications for an executive director and Holth said the decision won’t be made by Thursday’s event, but he expects someone will be hired relatively soon.

The DDA does not only want to support community events, but it hopes to be a voice and support of downtown for years into the future, Holth said. One of the long-term goals is to have a community events calendar for all events happening downtown, he said.

“We hope to be at the forefront of the conversation of what happens in downtown for decades to come,” he said.

Other downtowns

Both Fargo and Bismarck have had downtown associations for decades, and directors of those groups respectively said each of their cities’ downtowns have grown to be vibrant centers of their communities.

Michael Hahn, president of Fargo’s Downtown Community Partnership, said that group supports its downtown from all angles, including making sure the streets are maintained, promoting events, luring businesses and advocating for downtown residents and businesses to Fargo’s city commission.

Bismarck’s downtown has recently been through a sort of transformation, said Dawn Kopp, executive director of the Downtown Business Association of Bismarck. “It’s just like night and day from when I started (seven years ago),” she said. “Now people are always walking downtown. There are new restaurants and shops, people want to live downtown.”

Part of what has helped both Fargo and Bismarck build vibrant downtowns was community support, Hahn and Kopp said.

“It needs people to come together from both the private sector and public sector,” Hahn said. The process of building a strong downtown happens gradually, he added.

But Grand Forks already has a strong base, Kopp said. Having visited downtown Grand Forks before, she said, “Everybody that’s already there, they’re doing it. Grand Forks’ downtown will just continue to expand with more community involvement.”

Both Kopp and Hahn will be at Grand Forks’ Downtown Day Thursday, they said.

Downtown ‘heart’

“Downtown is really the heart of every city,” Kopp said, and those who support the DDA in Grand Forks expressed the same sentiment.

Sarah Horak, a DDA board member and downtown business owner, said she’s “very excited” about DDA’s work downtown.

“My heart is downtown,” she said. “It’s where (my husband and I) spend most of our time.”

Gershman said he is “very proud” of the DDA’s work in downtown Grand Forks so far, calling the group “a committed group of young entrepreneurs and professionals.”

After the flood of 1997, Gershman said he saw the city almost abandon downtown in its current location, but there were people who kept that from happening.

Holth said the DDA wants to build off of that history, but Gershman said, “They’re way beyond continuing what took place (in 1997).”

“I think we’re starting a new chapter for downtown Grand Forks,” he said.

If you go:

What: Downtown Day

When: Thursday, 4 p.m.

Where: Empire Arts Center in downtown Grand Forks

Info: free tickets available at, or at the door

Charly Haley
Charly Haley covers city government for the Grand Forks Herald. As night reporter, she also has many general assignments. Before working at the Herald, she was a reporter at the Jamestown Sun and interned at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, Detroit Lakes Newspapers and the St. Cloud Times. Haley is a graduate of Minnesota State University Moorhead, and her hometown is Sartell, Minn.
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