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Downtown action planners zoom in on Town Square, parks

One of many drawings RDG staff displayed at their Downtown Action Plan Design Studio in November. Emily Allen, Grand Forks Herald

City staff and consultants from RDG Planning and Design are closer to completing a downtown action plan Grand Forks can implement during a roughly $6.5 million reconstruction project on DeMers Avenue from the North Dakota Department of Transportation.

Action planners say they're mostly focused on finalizing a plan for a new Town Square. In a powerpoint RDG presented to the plan's steering committee in December, the company said it intends to make Town Square a "hub for events, daily civic life and public art."

The plan also addresses ways the city can improve public spaces downtown such as in alleys and pocket parks, as well as navigability, streetscaping and private development opportunities.

City Community Development Specialist Andy Conlon said those last three items are still "high level" ideas that require more direction from steering committee members.

"Really, the focus for us is Town Square at this point," Conlon said. "Over the past several months you've seen the different iterations and features and concepts of Town Square, incorporating feedback all the way back from August when we (had) over 600 responses from the public through a visual listening survey."

Town Square

Drawings RDG shared with the steering committee in January were focused solely on enhancing Town Square and downtown pocket parks.

A powerpoint from that presentation showed sketches of a Town Square with "flexible" greenspace, a stage for performance, an amphitheater, improvements to the levee, outdoor seating around a fireplace, gardens, an interactive water feature and playground equipment.

It also showed plans to convert North Third Street into a festival route, which could be converted for use during special events at Town Square.

RDG Planner Corey Scott said he and other designers will spend the rest of the month creating a more defined 3-D concept of Town Square, after receiving guidance from a steering committee meeting slated for Tuesday.

'Key emerging areas'

The December powerpoint from RDG featured several ideas for development in "key emerging areas," the most significant of which would be the water treatment plant on South Third Street.

RDG recommended not reusing the building, but instead redeveloping it for housing, citing what the company called a "need for housing options in and near downtown."

Planners also recommended closing a nearby section of South Third Street so developers can build closer to the levee, which would give residents a view overlooking the river.

"Which would be pretty exciting for somebody who likes to live close to water," Scott said.

Some recommendations from RDG have become obsolete, Scott said, referring to suggestions like one to redevelop the Town House hotel on First Avenue North.

"We've learned since that ... meeting in December there's no traction as far as those particular projects happening on that site," Scott said.

Drawings from the December meeting also showed a roundabout nearby the proposed development. City staff have said the idea is highly unlikely and would require a lot of study.

"I think it's an intriguing idea," Scott said. "We don't know if it'll work. We don't know if that's the right location either. ... It's just something that, through this planning process, you introduce and it requires extra study."

Emily Allen

Allen joined the Grand Forks Herald to cover local government and politics May 2018. Call her at 701-780-1102, email her at eallen@gfherald.com or follow her on Twitter, @Emily_theHerald.

(701) 780-1102
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