Downtown group pitches future full of possibility to Grand Forks leaders
One of the biggest ideas behind Monday's presentation to Grand Forks leaders came up over and over again: "What if?" What if downtown's South Third Street had a narrow, decorated median? What if the city spent funds on sprucing up the Town Square...
One of the biggest ideas behind Monday’s presentation to Grand Forks leaders came up over and over again: “What if?”
What if downtown’s South Third Street had a narrow, decorated median? What if the city spent funds on sprucing up the Town Square, or worked to build a pedestrian bridge to central East Grand Forks?
Leaders with Grand Forks’ Committee of the Whole heard about the possibilities the future could hold from the mayor’s downtown vibrancy group, which presented a report on Monday about what it found since it formed more than 18 months ago. Its report, which runs more than 30 pages, is full of visions of what the future could bring -- ways to make the downtown community bloom.
And Jim Galloway, a principal with JLG Architects and one of the leaders of the vibrancy group, brought a prop with him to help city leaders think their way through it. He showed off a scaled model of downtown Grand Forks in tiny, white pieces, spanning from the Sorlie Bridge to the city’s water treatment plant to its northside neighborhoods. It’s a palette city leaders can use to paint visions for the future -- allowing for an endless list of what-ifs.
"Downtown is maybe at another inflection point," said Mark Schill, a vice president with Praxis Strategy Group who helped present the report. He referred to the flood of 1997, a tumultuous moment in city history. "I think it could be argued that downtown is reaching the end of that cycle of recovery and (could) open that door and look to the future."
The document is built around several big ideas, like “improve access to and around downtown,” “animate street life” and “create bold public spaces.” But the document offers specific steps, too, like creating a Grand Forks bike share, constructing a roundabout at Belmont Road and South Fifth Street and turning north Third and Fourth streets into two-way roads.
City leaders praised the presentation, plucking out statistics or ruminating on projects for the future. City Council member Danny Weigel pointed out the report’s analysis of downtown developments, which are valued at a significantly higher rate than other places in the city. Weigel pointed out the relevance between that trend and the ongoing discussion about a potential $7 million-plus building project, complete with condos and retail space, on Arbor Park at 15 S. Fourth St.
“We’re at a time in the city where we’ve got projects to pay for, and we may not have all the money to do it,” Weigel said. “I’m looking at it from the aspect of what can we do to generate more revenue and decrease the burden for taxpayers.”
The vibrancy group that created the report has been working for nearly two years, visiting Fort Collins, Colo., and Winnipeg for research purposes and hosting a public forum for input in March . The report they’ve produced lays out an action plan for the future -- with bullet points like redeveloping downtown properties and making space for public art -- and Galloway said he can’t speak for his committee colleagues, but he’s open to the possibility of continuing to meet and advise the city.
That’s the kind of feedback City Council member Bret Weber hopes to hear.
“Let’s keep working on bite-sized pieces of this,” he told presenters, “so we can look back five years from now and say, ‘Look at this report we did. It didn’t just end up on a shelf.’”
City leaders also voted 6-0 to give preliminary approval to disburse about $127,000 in arts funding for the coming year, with City Council President Dana Sande absent. Beneficiaries include the North Dakota Ballet Company ($10,562), the North Dakota Museum of Art ($15,671) and the Empire Arts Center ($15,781). If granted final approval by the City Council, the funds are expected to be disbursed in January.