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Downtown revitalization a national trend

Grand Forks is one of several cities in the region following the national trend of downtown revitalization. After attending the recent "Downtown Day" kick-off event for the Grand Forks Downtown Development Association, representatives of these ot...

Downtown Bismarck. Submitted photo.


Grand Forks is one of several cities in the region following the national trend of downtown revitalization.

After attending the recent “Downtown Day” kick-off event for the Grand Forks Downtown Development Association, representatives of these other cities’ downtown associations said downtown Grand Forks is primed for the development local leaders are aiming for.

“It’s beautiful in downtown Grand Forks,” said Bonny Kemper, executive director of the Downtown Professional and Business Association in Minot. “There are great hometown stores. It will only be enhanced more with a downtown association.”

Executive director


While Minot’s downtown association is not newly formed like Grand Forks’ DDA, it hired an executive director just nine months ago, which is what the DDA is in the process of doing now.

“For many years, it was just business owners,” like the local business owners who are volunteering in Grand Forks’ DDA now, Kemper said. But business owners are busy running their stores, she said, so having an executive director makes things run smoother.

“Our board of directors is still involved, but we don’t have to do the day-to-day things,” she said.

Minot is in the process of revamping a 26-block downtown area as part of the city’s recovery from the Souris River flood of 2011, Kemper said. Because of flood damage, much of the downtown revamp has to do with underground infrastructure.

But downtown Minot has also been working on attracting more businesses and has had six to seven new retail stores or restaurants open recently, Kemper said.

“And there’s more coming with the rebuilding,” she said. Minot’s downtown association has the goal of using the downtown’s old historical buildings for stores on the ground floor and apartments above, she said.

Minot’s downtown rebuilding after the flood may be somewhat reminiscent of Grand Forks’ rebuilding after the Flood of 1997. Kemper echoed the sentiment of many Grand Forks community leaders in saying “downtowns are the heart of a city.”

“The downtown revitalizations across the nation are really happening,” Kemper said. “People’s hearts are in downtowns. This is where they want to congregate.”


‘Maintaining momentum’

While downtown Fargo and Bismarck are both further along in their revitalizations than Grand Forks or Minot, neither of those cities are finished transforming their downtowns either, representatives of their downtown associations said.

“From our perspective, as the market changes, we look at our events, and we want to make sure we keep our events fresh,” said Michael Hahn, president of Fargo’s Downtown Community Partnership.

Hahn was at Grand Forks’ Downtown Day, and said he was impressed, especially by the number of community members who attended.

“It was an overall good kick-off for the DDA,” he said. “But now, it’s a challenge for the board to maintain that momentum.”

Kate Herzog, assistant director of the Downtown Business Association of Bismarck, also attended Downtown Day and agreed that downtown Grand Forks has the potential to create the vibrant area that local leaders want.

One of the DDA’s goals from Downtown Day that is similar to Bismarck’s, and probably to all downtowns in North Dakota, is the desire for a more family-friendly environment, Herzog said.

Central High School in downtown Grand Forks probably already helps with making downtown family-friendly, Herzog said. She expects that downtown associations across North Dakota will begin to have conversations with school districts. Young families are being drawn to downtowns, she said, and their children will need somewhere to attend school.


Grand Forks may also have a leg up on Bismarck when it comes to family-friendly events, she said, because of the Town Square. Bismarck is currently looking into some sort of space for outdoor events aside from closing off streets, she said.

Another downtown’s ideas

It’s not just North Dakota cities that are following the national trend.

Nearby Sioux Falls, S.D., has also revitalized its downtown in the past few years, including adding a summer festival and rent incentives for downtown businesses, said Brienne Maner, communications and membership manager for Downtown Sioux Falls, Inc.

Sioux Falls’ downtown revamp mainly started with a look at the streets and some buildings, and reconstructing something that better worked for the community, Maner said.

In the mid-2000s, the Zip Feed Mill tower, which Maner described as “an eyesore in the middle of downtown,” was demolished. In its place, Cherapa Place was built, housing different offices and a restaurant, she said.

After that, more businesses started coming into downtown, including a Hilton Garden Inn, she said. In Grand Forks, several DDA members are interested in attracting a hotel.

Downtown Sioux Falls has also revamped its riverfront with a greenway similar to Grand Forks’, she said. A difference is that the Sioux Falls greenway has amphitheaters for events.


DDA members plan to have volunteer cleanup days in Grand Forks, and Maner said events like that have really helped downtown Sioux Falls.

The city has also focused on bringing residents into downtown and now has about 1,400 people living there, she said.

But Sioux Falls also still has improvements to make, such as filling in vacant storefronts, which is why the downtown association there offers rent incentives to new businesses that sign a three-year lease, Maner said.

Last year, Sioux Falls’ downtown association started a summer Riverfest and expected about 3,000 to 5,000 people, but had nearly 10,000 attend.

“It really was a testament that people wanted to come see the revitalization,” Maner said.


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