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What does the Grand Forks Downtown Development Association do? COO Jill Proctor explains

The Grand Forks Herald sat down with Jill Proctor, COO of the Downtown Development Association (DDA), for 5 Questions this week.

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The Grand Forks Herald sat down with Jill Proctor, COO of the Grand Forks Downtown Development Association (DDA), for 5 Questions this week.
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GRAND FORKS — The Grand Forks Herald sat down with Jill Proctor, COO of the Downtown Development Association, for 5 Questions this week.

Q: What does the DDA do?

A: Our mission is to advocate for, promote, grow and improve the downtown community, and we know that downtown communities across the country are kind of the heart of a community and they kind of fuel everything that goes around goes on across the entire town, so we feel that when our downtown is thriving, then that just opens up the opportunities across our entire Grand Forks. So that really is our focus — creating placemaking, focusing on how we retain and attract talent to our community (and) making sure that we're making it a safe, vibrant place for anybody and everybody to enjoy.

Q: How might someone in downtown Grand Forks notice the DDA’s influence? If there were no DDA, what wouldn't be in downtown Grand Forks?

A: What maybe wouldn't be here could be our Grand Rides Bike Share. The DDA took over Grand Rides during the pandemic, and the company that originally brought Grand Rides Bike Share into Grand Forks did not survive the pandemic, and Grand Forks was faced with the question of, “Do you want a bike share program in your community, or is it leaving?” The DDA was part of the conversations to bring it here initially, and then the DDA was approached about overseeing it. So we worked with other community leaders to make sure that we could get a plan in place, so now the DDA owns and operates the Grand Rides Bike Share system in collaboration with the city of Grand Forks. Altru Health System has been an incredible partner on that, Visit Greater Grand Forks, most recently it's been Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota, the city of East Grand Forks has come on board… Oh, and the University of North Dakota Student Government. How can I even forget that one? They're the most riders!

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Q: Why is adding more apartments and residential options in downtown Grand Forks important?

A: If you look back several years, there was a big controversy around the (Arbor Park) lot. The DDA was approached by partners and members and looking for a stance that a downtown organization should be taking on a build like that. (It) was such a beloved community space, and when we looked around and we looked at all of where downtown Grand Forks has come since the Flood of ‘97 and what the intentions were behind building back our downtown from there, the intention was that that lot was always a placeholder. And we know that there was development happening, we know that there's a shift happening with the upcoming generations and what they're looking for. And again, with the boomers as well, they're looking for neighborhoods and communities that are walkable, that they can work at, live at, play at, go grocery shopping at and do all of (those) things (and) the biggest priority is having a healthy environment to be able to do that. So that was a big key role when we took the stance of the Vote No To Grow campaign, and we do feel that that kind of opened the door of possibility to all these new developments that we'd hoped were coming.

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Q: What is the Downtowner program?

A: This was a newly launched program. As we have watched over the last couple of years of the millions of dollars in investments coming to downtown, we started to ask ourselves as an organization, “What is our role to maintaining the beautification down here, creating the atmosphere that warrants having millions of dollars in investments and how do we continue to thrive on all those improvements?” And Town Square is the first thing that came to mind because everybody loves it. Everybody loves (the) farmers market. We love having concerts in there, we've had our own concerts in there, we use it for our downtown street fair (and) we try to incorporate it into most things that we do, but that's 10% of the time, and we see it 90% of the time maybe that other people don't, and some of the business owners, especially on Third Street, they see some of the activity that was going on in there, and it's not real comfortable. (It’s) maybe not always the safest space for people to go hang out in and enjoy lunch or coffee, and we want to make all of downtown welcoming for visitors, guests, residents and whoever is coming down here. And so we started asking the question, “Whose responsibility is it to look at these spaces and activate them or reimagine them?” And Town Square was kind of a no-brainer for us, but then it was like, “Well, how do we find it?” We’re a small, three-person staff 501 C (6) We don't have thousands of dollars sitting around that we can just go change spaces downtown. And the other thing is we're always hearing from people, “How do I get involved? I want to be part of what happens in our spaces and the decisions that are getting made.” And so this kind of served as the purpose to kind of two birds one stone where we needed public support and input on what to do with this space. We have worked in partnership with the city on this space, we had a (great) conversation early on with some of our investors and some of the city leaders and asked if the DDA was the one that should take the lead role in reimagining Town Square, and the answer was overwhelmingly “yes.” So we thought that if we could get community support behind Town Square in the form of contributions that would help fuel what we're trying to do in there, that it was just the perfect combination.

Q: What is on the horizon for the DDA for the rest of 2022

A: Town Square. We recently applied for some grants to try to do some placemaking (and) try to revitalize the culture in that space, and one of those happened to be called the Lowe’s Hometown Project. My husband actually got wind of it on the radio. I hadn't heard anything about it, and I thought on a whim it's 100 communities across the country, this is a national competition, last year there (were) thousands of applicants, like let's just put our name in the hat and see what happens. So we found out probably six weeks ago that we'd made the top 200, and we're like, “Oh, we have a 50% chance. So you're saying there's a chance?” And then we found out just a few weeks ago that we were selected as one of the 100 across the country to receive a $100,000 grant and be named one of those hometowns. It was pretty exciting too because this is the first time a North Dakota organization has received this opportunity, so we're the first and only in North Dakota. I also noticed on the map that they released today that even Minnesota (and) potentially South Dakota and Montana, they are not part of this incredible opportunity. So what that's going to do is everything we kind of hoped that it would, and the city is doing incredible work.

Related Topics: 5 QUESTIONS
Jacob Holley joined the Grand Forks Herald as its business reporter in June 2021.

Holley's beat at the Grand Forks Herald is broad and includes a variety of topics, including small business, national trends and more.

Readers can reach Holley at jholley@gfherald.com.Follow him on Twitter @JakeHolleyMedia.
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