by April Scheinoha
Empty buildings. Unmaintained buildings. Weeds. These are the problems that some people see in the downtown area of Thief River Falls.
To help preserve and rejuvenate the downtown area, a group of residents and businesspeople have banded together to form the Thief River Falls Downtown Development Association.
Chairperson Ryan Walseth said the group wants Thief River Falls to have a destination downtown – a place where people will live and shop.
Walseth noted that Thief River Falls is facing challenges in terms of growth, but the downtown is being ignored. He said the downtown is struggling with empty buildings as well as buildings that aren’t being maintained. “If all the buildings are full downtown, that’s half our goal,” Walseth said.
A formal downtown group is nothing new in Thief River Falls. A similar effort was tried many years ago. This latest effort began last summer with Ashley Nerhus, executive director of the Thief River Falls Chamber of Commerce. Group members continued to informally meet this fall, seeking assistance from Jonathan Holth of the Grand Forks Downtown Development Association.
They were also energized by the news that Schuett Development LLC plans to build 146 apartments, in phases, at the former downtown site of Sanford Medical Center. That project automatically expands the opportunities for restaurants and stores in downtown Thief River Falls, Walseth said. He noted Schooner Bar & Grill is the only downtown eating establishment open after 2 p.m.
The group formalized its efforts in November with the creation of the Thief River Falls Downtown Development Association. The DDA is a separate, independent subcommittee of the Chamber. It is open to anyone, including individuals and businesses that aren’t Chamber members. Both the DDA and the Chamber want the downtown to thrive and succeed, said Walseth, owner of Bergan Travel and a former chairperson of the Chamber Board.
Thus far, the DDA’s most visible event is planned for Thursday, May 5. At that time, the association will host a downtown cleanup event. The association has other plans in the near future, including partnering with the Chamber for Crazy Days in August.
The DDA is also working with Pennington County Economic Development Director Christine Anderson to recruit new businesses to the downtown area, Walseth said.
In addition, the DDA hopes to present a unified voice for the interests of downtown Thief River Falls. Walseth said that LaBree Avenue is scheduled to be overlaid in a few years. Depending upon the willingness of downtown business owners, he noted there may be opportunities for wider sidewalks, updated street lighting and additional landscaping at that time.
The DDA meets on a regular basis with an average of about 30 people in attendance. More members are welcome. Freewill, tax-deductible donations are accepted to sustain its work. DDA members contributing $100 or more receive a window decal showcasing their membership.
For more information about the Thief River Falls Downtown Development Association, contact Ryan Walseth at 218-681-4100 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The group is also on Facebook and Twitter.