In less than a month, the Grand Forks public has an opportunity to weigh in on and review some big proposed changes for the city’s Town Square and downtown area.
City staff and the Iowa-based company RDG Planning and Design will host an open house for the public on Wednesday, May 1, where it will show off nearly completed concepts for a new downtown. That includes ideas for private re-development, new signs, streetscaping and new designs for Town Square and other public spaces.
Grand Forks hired RDG last summer and it will pay the company $218,135 from its economic development fund to create a “downtown action plan” the city can implement during and after a nearly $7.9 million re-construction of DeMers Avenue from the Sorlie Bridge to North Sixth Street.
RDG officially revealed concepts for a new Town Square and other elements of the downtown during a city hall meeting with local leaders in February. Most recently, the Grand Forks Planning and Zoning Commission received a presentation on the action plan from Meredith Richards, Director of Community Development for the city of Grand Forks.
Concept renderings for Town Square includes a fountain, a stage for performances, green space that can be converted into an ice rink for skating in the winter and seating.
Like the current Town Square, Richards said the location’s “iconic” paddlewheel remains in all of RDG’s designs, above the entrance to Town Square.
Unlike the current Town Square, RDG’s designs show a town square with no walls.
“I think that was a step in the right direction for gaining space, but when it comes to any type of event that you’d want to do down there that would be ticketed, you just created more work for event organizers,” said Jamie Lunski, a member of the Grand Forks Planning and Zoning Commission. “You lost your boundaries.”
During the planning and zoning presentation, Lunski warned the city against investing in a new Town Square that would offer little in return.
Richards said her office has no idea at this time what it will cost to redevelop Town Square. If she had to loosely ball park it, Richards said overall the whole project could cost millions.
“But any project is to be done over time,” she added. “If we were to implement every single element in that concept drawing at the same time, which is not necessarily likely, that would be a different (price) than if we re-did the stage as a separate project, added a water feature later and so on.”
Lunski said there’s a lot of amenities the Town Square concept doesn’t offer as far as he can see, such as restrooms.
“We can’t remodel what we have and not gain something when we’re done,” Lunski said. Lunski also said the city should look into finding a new location with more space.
“It has served its purpose for 20 years,” Lunski said. The city placed its Town Square on the corner on South Third Street and DeMers Avenue after the lot was made empty following the flood of 1997. “I think we should look at all of our options before we say ‘Town Square needs to be remodeled and this is where it stays.’ It’s at capacity for almost every farmer’s market and a lot of other events that have happened in that place.”
Richards said RDG has mentioned a few ways the city can pay for a new Town Square, when the time comes to do so.
“We have some carry-over beautification funds that have been eyeballed as a source for this for quite a while,” she said. RDG has also proposed a fundraising campaign or sponsorship, like the Grand Forks Park District did before the construction of what is now Choice Health and Fitness.
“We haven’t made any decision if we’d pursue that yet,” Richards said.
May 1 will also mark the kickoff for the Downtown Development Association’s 2020 Vision campaign, which is meant to bring people downtown even as the city and state reconstruction DeMers Avenue downtown throughout the summer of 2019.
“We’ll be doing a lot of marketing and then wayfinding as well, letting people know what the best re-routes are going to be during the DeMers reconstruction, where they can park during that,” said DDA Director Blue Weber.
The DDA recently hired a part-time commuity organizer for the campaign who will enage the publi throughout the campaign until Sept. 30, Weber said.
“The idea behind that is it’s to get people to come downtown and interact with downtown,” said DDA Director Blue Weber. “Not just for events, but come and kind of see what a downtown lifestyle is like and kind of start to meld the shape of the way that downtown is for the future.”