A noticeable change: Downtown projects create shift is usage of spaces in Grand Forks

Jill Proctor, the CEO/president of the Downtown Development Association, said she has seen a shift in the downtown community over the years to be more catering to families.

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The Grand Forks Downtown Development Association made several improvements to the Town Square last year that made the space more user-friendly on a year-round basis. Additional improvements are still in the works.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

GRAND FORKS — There has been a lot of changes in the downtown Grand Forks over the past five years, as development projects continue and other spaces see improvements throughout the area.

Jill Proctor, the CEO/president of the Downtown Development Association, said she has seen a shift in the downtown community over the years to be more catering to families.

“We’re starting to see more family activities and the need or the want for family activities from the community. (Families) want to be able to come down with their kids and enjoy a meal or an activity or an event or something. Where I think prior years downtown’s always kind of been recognized as this party central where the younger generation comes down and hangs out,” she said. “I’m definitely seeing a shift from that where there’s still space for that, but then there’s all the other times of the day and days of the week where we’re seeing a lot more activity.”

Town Square has had some noticeable improvements over the last year . Some of the enhancements made on the space included incorporating giant cornhole sets, musical instruments, fire pits, outdoor workout equipment and a new mural.

The enhancements were made possible by a $100,000 Lowe’s Hometown grant along with Visit Greater Grand Forks, which invested in the outdoor musical instruments, and from the Myra Foundation, which provided a grant for the fire pits.


The goal of the project was to make Town Square a friendly, more welcoming and accessible space that could be usable year-round by all age groups.

Proctor, along with the DDA’s vice president of marketing, Svea Benefield, said they have seen notable changes in the usage of the space so far.

“We’ve actually not had to intervene in Town Square yet this season, which last year, that would have been a very different story,” Proctor said.

The usage of the space also carried over into the winter. Proctor said the DDA saw a 30% increase of people utilizing Town Square throughout the colder months.

As part of Downtown Frosty Forks , the DDA not only offered the First Community Credit Union Ice Rink, but also had winter activities such as snowshoeing, cross country skiing, along with the inaugural ‘Average Person Winter Olympics.’

“And the feedback we’ve heard was that ‘I’ve lived here all my life and I’ve never tried anything like this.’ So to offer people the opportunity to step out of their comfort zone or learn something new, I think again goes right back to that quality of life that is so important for multi-generations,” Proctor said.

The DDA is also excited for upcoming events including Blues on the Red on June 17 and the Downtown Street Fair on Aug. 18-19. Another upcoming event is the Downtown: Pillars of Place conference on June 13. This is the third year the DDA is hosting the conference, which will focus on the four pillars of placemaking in spaces.

At the conference attendees will be able to work in groups to develop a placemaking concept for one of several identified spaces throughout the city. At the end of the day one team will be awarded $1,000 to implement the project.


More enhancements are still to come for Town Square. Free Wi-Fi provided by Midco is set to become available and another mural for the space is planned.

The DDA is also looking to fundraise for new and accessible playground equipment this year. The estimate of the new equipment is $75,000.

Other improvements are still in the talks. In April, the City Council reviewed plans and specifications to reconstruct the Town Square paddlewheel fountain. The fountain hasn’t been operational since around 2017 . 

The proposed project would remove and replace the foundation for the ponds and update the piping and controls for the water features and water treatment with funding coming from Fund 2163 (proceeds from the sale of Corporate Center I) and the Beautification Program.

At their May 15 meeting, the Council rejected the lone bid from Gast Construction in the amount of $1,081,200, which was $500,000 over the estimated project cost. Alternative projects such as landscaping around the area and decorative lighting for the paddlewheel are currently being considered.

Improvements aren’t only limited to Town Square, but Loon Park, a pocket park next to Ely’s Ivy, will also have work done this year. The project will entail removing and replacing the existing concrete paving stones and retaining wall in the park, addressing the drainage problem by re-shaping the grades and adding an area drain and replacing the street lights in the park.

During its May 15 meeting the Council approved awarding Opp Construction, the lowest of two bidders, the project in the amount of $189,745. Funding for the project will come from Fund 2163.

In addition to projects on Town Square and Loon Park, ongoing large-scale development projects are also noticeable downtown. Those projects include the Olive Ann boutique hotel and event center , Franklin on Fourth and The Beacon by EPIC Companies .


Proctor said all of the projects are anticipated to bring more people to the downtown area including residents and visitors.

“That visitorship is just going to be something like we’ve never seen before,” she said. “We’re definitely on the horizon, I think, of a downtown that is vibrant and growing and attractive and welcoming and safe and all of those things that any community would want their downtown to look like.”

Overall, Proctor and Benefield said they’re excited for what the next five years will bring to the downtown area.

“To think that there’s going to be visitors coming in and filling those hotel rooms and staying in those spaces and eating at those restaurants and shopping at those stores, I can’t wait to see what it’s like in five years,” Proctor said.

Meghan Arbegast grew up in Security-Widefield, Colorado. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Journalism from North Dakota State University in Fargo, in 2021.

Arbegast wrote for The Spectrum, NDSU's student newspaper, for three years and was Head News Editor for two years. She was an intern with University Relations her last two semesters of college.

Arbegast covers news pertaining to the city of Grand Forks/East Grand Forks including city hall coverage.

Readers can reach Arbegast at 701-780-1267 or

Pronouns: She/Her
Languages: English
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