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A new look for downtown: Committee reviews early images of new Town Square

Grand Forks city staff and downtown leaders study the first renderings of a possible new Town Square. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Grand Forks city staff and downtown leaders on Tuesday saw the first renderings of a possible new Town Square.

RDG Planning and Design, the Iowa-based consultants tasked last June with creating a plan the city can use to redevelop its downtown, shared some tentative designs with a steering committee of local stakeholders.

"The work is still not done, even though we have all these illustrations together," RDG Planner Cory Scott told the committee.

The early renderings are available to the public on RDG's website for the Grand Forks Downtown Action Plan. Final versions will be presented at an unveiling in early May, along with ideas ideas for public parks, streetscaping and potential development.

The Town Square rendering Tuesday included an interactive water feature, green space and a stage area for performances.

Committee members were asked to "score" the images on factors such as whether they thought the designs would transform the downtown image, invoke community support and have an immediate impact on residents.

The committee advised RDG to prioritize creating a finalized plan for Town Square.

Town square reactions

Blue Weber, executive director of the Downtown Development Association, thanked planners for including a rendering of Town Square in winter as well as spring. He had been concerned at first, Weber said, about using any more green spaces downtown.

"You look at downtown, and so much of it is a snowbank," Weber said. "It's about making these spaces into more than a snowbank."

Weber added that while Town Square took precedence with most of the steering committee, it's important that surrounding public areas, like Loon Park by Ely's Ivy and Pillsbury Park by Urban Stampede on Kittson Avenue, share a similar theme with Town Square.

Executive Director Julie Rygg of the Greater Grand Forks Convention and Visitors Bureau said it's also important to maintain connectivity with downtown East Grand Forks on the other side of the Sorlie Bridge.

"From a visitor's perspective, they don't care that they're in another state or town," Rygg said. "They just want it all to connect."

Grand Forks County Director of Administration Tom Ford called Town Square a "focal point" for downtown visitors.

"That's where we have all of the events," Ford said. "That's where the Farmer's Market is, that's where the draw is."

Ford added an attractive Town Square can levy foot traffic for other downtown attractions, like pocket parks and businesses.

Water Treatment Plant

Some of the development ideas RDG addressed included a railroad site on Kittson Avenue, green space along First Avenue and the Centurylink building on North Fifth Street.

Most of the development talk was centered on a bigger project, the redevelopment of the retiring Water Treatment Plant on South Third Street.

Scott recommended fully replacing the plant and redeveloping the space into a residential building after noticing a gap between people who want to live downtown and available housing options.

"What we've tried to draw here is something that would fill that gap," Scott said.

"We do have a need in this community where we have $100,000 houses that need some work and then we jump to $450,000 houses with nothing in between," Ford said.

Unlike the rest of the downtown action plan, City Administrator Todd Feland told Scott there's no rush to come up with a plan for the plant.

Feland urged developers and fellow city staffers to consider a project that will "stand the test of time."

"I don't want to do something today when this might be something for 2050," he said. "Let's make sure this is a 100-year decision we're making, and not just one for the next couple of years."

Correction: 

Early renderings for a new Town Square are available to the public on the RDG Planning and Design website for a the Grand Forks Downtown Action Plan, at www.rdgusa.com/sites/grandforks.

A Wednesday story titled “A new look for downtown: Committee reviews embargoed images of new town square” reported RDG was holding onto the images until an unveiling event in early May.

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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