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Focus groups weeks away for Devils Lake downtown initiative

DEVILS LAKE—With the ideas already flowing, consultants and community leaders looking to revitalize downtown Devils Lake say focus groups could be just around the corner.

"We've spent a lot of hours meeting the people, talking about what they're feeling about downtown — past, present and future — and what the opportunities are moving forward," said Jonathan Holth, a Grand Forks consultant and co-owner of Toasted Frog restaurants. "There's a lot of positivity. People are energized about downtown Devils Lake. That's a really important first step in a process like this, a recognition that downtown is important. We've heard that loud and clear from the community, and we're excited for the next steps."

Holth, who is partnering with Mark Schill of Praxis Strategy Group, Grand Forks, says they are working out logistics and plan to set up focus groups in the next few weeks.

"We'll hold some of those focus groups and public meetings at different places and different times in order to catch as many people and get as much feedback as possible," Holth said. "We want to make sure everyone is involved in this."

Paula Vistad, executive director of the Devils Lake Area Chamber of Commerce, said several one-on-one interviews happened this summer but downtown development has been on the city's radar for years. She said the city is on board with the statewide Main Street Initiative.

"Our main street has seen a decline as well, and we'd like to see that built up. It's never going to be the main street it was 25 or 30 years ago, but whatever that vision might be, we're hoping to revitalize it into something new, something different," she said. "We have a beautiful, historic city. We have beautiful, historic buildings down there, and we hope to capture those and bring the downtown back to life."

Family features

Two themes that have emerged so far are a downtown park, or some sort of green space, and family-friendly features.

"There seems to be a general understanding from the public that the downtown needs to be a place that's welcoming for families," Holth said. "So, if there's opportunities for more family programming, I think we'll look at ways we can achieve that. There is a lot of opportunity."

Vistad said the city already moved its farmers market to the parking lot of Leever's North with the idea it eventually could transition to a permanent space downtown.

"That is our hope to have a green space. Whether it be for a farmers market, bands or a splash park at some point, that is our goal," she said.

Holth said an overall project plan could be in place as soon as this fall or early winter. He said it likely will include a combination of "low-hanging fruit improvements that can be worked on right away" and long-term projects.