Grand Forks residents filled City Hall Tuesday night to voice their opinions on ways local leaders and consultants could improve downtown parks and public spaces.
Forty-five minutes into the Downtown Action Plan kickoff event, Andrea Boe, communications practice leader for Advanced Engineering and Environmental Services, counted about 35 attendees, with more filing in. She hoped at least 50 would show up for the event.
Boe’s firm and consultants from RDG Planning and Design in Des Moines have spent the summer working on a downtown action plan with a steering committee of Grand Forks leaders since June, RDG planner Cory Scott said. He added his group collected 780 responses from a visual listening survey it offered earlier in the process.
Those responses will influence signage, development and streetscaping downtown.
“We need to understand a little bit more on what the alignment of the program will be going into November,” Scott said, November being when RDG starts drafting designs. “Right now, we just haven’t gotten a lot of feedback on the Town Square part of it yet.”
At the kickoff, attendees had the option to provide that feedback by sharing what they like about Town Square and what should change.
“What can its role be?” Scott asked. “That can be anything from a performance area to a more ‘play-and-family-friendly’ area. There’s different themes a downtown part can take on.”
Kyle Slivnik of Grand Forks was at the kickoff observing other attendees’ suggestions and leaving his own.
“There are a lot of pieces that I think could be looked at holistically,” he said, including lighting in alleyways and a more open Town Square. “Right now, it’s just kind of squared off and there’s three entrances, and it doesn’t really allow for organic travel.”
Jill Proctor, who is on the board of directors for the Downtown Development Association, also was at the kickoff to provide insight as someone who is downtown every day for work.
“I’m looking more for utilizing the spaces we have available in the most efficient way, in this day-and-age-workforce,” she said.
Proctor said she was anxious about the effect construction might have on traffic for businesses downtown next spring, but she noted she’s eager to see the downtown area grow.
Attendees also considered other public areas downtown, including Loon Park by Ely’s Ivy and Pillsbury Park in between Ink Ink and Urban Stampede.
Downtown Development Association Director Blue Weber, who also serves on the action plan steering committee, said the public’s role in making decisions on the downtown area is just as important as his.
“Before I had my job here at the DDA, these were the kinds of things I would go to because I think it’s really important for the community to have their voices heard well,” he said. “And so I think it’s a good opportunity for people to get engaged before becoming a political figure or working for an organization.”
Various representatives from downtown organizations and groups across the city join Weber on the steering committee, including Becca Cruger form the Greater Grand Forks Young Professionals.
“It’s just really important for people to give input on the future of downtown Grand Forks because this is all of our city, and we get to decide how it’s shaped,” Cruger said.
Outside public input events, Scott said the community can keep up with the plan’s progress and find updates at celebrategrandforks.com. He plans to offer more in-depth events for the community next month.
Planners are racing to have a plan in time for a major North Dakota Department of Transportation reconstruction of DeMers Avenue next spring.
“I think it’s a really neat thing that we’re getting to do, especially on the Department of Transportation’s dollar,” Weber said. “It’s something that most major downtowns across the country have been looking at doing and are constantly trying to figure out how to do, and we get to do it here.”
East Grand Forks City Planner Nancy Ellis, who also is on the steering committee, said there are no plans to change the downtown in her city at this time.
“Right now, my role is just to simply see what they’re doing in Grand Forks, and to see if it’s there’s anything we want to incorporate in our downtown side,” she said.
The committee welcomes input from East Grand Forks residents, since people from both sides will often frequent each other’s downtowns, Ellis said.
“We kind of see it as one downtown instead of two downtowns in two separate cities in two separate states,” she said.