Group makes downtown hope visible

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by David Hill, Editor

    Local residents, business owners and community leaders gathered at the Carnegie Library in downtown Thief River Falls on Thursday, Aug. 17, to discuss suggestions designed to promote the business climate and improve the quality of life in the downtown business district. Although described as the third and final public meeting conducted by the Downtown Development Association, a committee of the Chamber of Commerce, the process is far from over.
    Thursday night, the 30 or 40 residents who were at the meeting examined design suggestions that came from Joe Polacek and Virajita Singh, who were guiding the process. Polacek is a master’s candidate at the Humphrey School for Public Affairs, and Singh, a professor and research administrator with the College of Design and  Sustainable Building Research. Their participation was funded through a grant from the Regional Sustainable Development Partnership of the University of Minnesota Extension, and the Northwest Minnesota Foundation.
    The suggestions presented Thursday were based on feedback from previous meetings, research and design principles the group had agreed to at the very beginning of the process.
    Suggestions that came about as a result of the meetings included such things as greening up the downtown area with plantings or planters, placing historical placards in the area, experimenting with angle parking to create more parking, providing space on the First Street bridge for pedestrian use or building a pedestrian bridge there, creating an innovative incubator or shared space zones for new businesses, including kitchens for restaurants, creating a downtown town square, and new lighting and signage for the downtown area.
    One individual said it seemed like something drastic needs to be done.
    Obstacles or challenges were also discussed by the group, however. Money, financing, negativity, and maintenance issues are among the many challenges.
    Singh urged participants not to let the plan sit on a shelf. She urged them to create diverse winning teams to address specific issues and to start small, and act
quickly.
    The final suggested design changes can be viewed sa a pdf file here.
    Linda Kingery, executive director of the University of Minnesota Regional Sustainable Partnership, echoed the thanks of Downtown Development Association Director Ryan Walseth, who thanked participants for showing that they care. Kingery described their presence as “making hope visible.”
    The next step in the process may be off to a good start as several individuals at the meeting agreed to be on a committee to study what types of lighting should be installed in the downtown business area.
    (The downtown business area has been targeted for road and infrastructure improvements in 2019.)