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Designers host public studio for input on downtown Grand Forks action plan

One of many drawings RDG staff displayed at their Downtown Action Plan Design Studio Wednesday night. Emily Allen, Grand Forks Herald1 / 2
RDG Landscape architect Bruce Niedermyer reads from "Grand Forks, a Pictorial History" by Jerome Tweton at the Downtown Action Plan Design Studio Wednesday night. Emily Allen, Grand Forks Herald 2 / 2

Pencil hit paper this week as designers began to sketch ideas that will eventually reshape downtown Grand Forks.

RDG Planning and Design hosted an open house design studio both Wednesday and Thursday in the Herald’s Community Room, where community members were encouraged to stop by and help staff draw ways to improve open spaces downtown. The city hired RDG in May to create a Downtown Action Plan it can implement next summer, while the state Department of Transportation rehabilitates DeMers Avenue from Sorlie Bridge to Sixth Street next summer.

“Rubber is meeting road, as the saying goes,” said Andrea Boe, the communications practice leader for engineering firm AE2S, which is working with RDG on this project.

This is not the company’s first time hosting such a public studio, said RDG Planner Corey Scott. His Iowa-based company has hosted several similar functions in other towns it has worked for, and in Scott’s experience these are where ideas come to life. He recalled a session in Detroit Lakes, Minn., when someone from Fargo stopped by and offered to develop an available lot on the edge of downtown. Three years later, Detroit Lakes now has a commercial space at that site.

“Here, what we’re doing is beginning to illustrate some of the things people do want,” Scott said.

Streetscaping and open spaces

When they first started in Grand Forks this May, Scott said he and other planners had to “jump in quickly” on streetscaping designs to keep up with NDDOT’s plans for construction.

More recently, staff have begun looking at what they can do with open spaces downtown. During the last public event RDG hosted in October, planners were largely focused on gauging the community’s opinions for a theme at Town Square. Of a reported 42 attendees, the most popular theme was keeping Town Square a performance space. Results staff shared Wednesday night showed participants were also in favor of maintaining the farmer’s market and dining options.

The first Design Studio brought in approximately 15 members from the community Wednesday night, Boe reported. One participant, Paul McCullough, stopped by mostly to learn.

“I’m just really intrigued to see what the future of the Grand Forks Downtown Area could be,” he said.

Some of the ideas he shared included filling up open spaces downtown, including Loon Park by Ely’s Ivy on South Third Street and Pillsbury Park in between Ink Inc. and Urban Stampede on Kittson Ave.

“Some of our parks just look like empty lots,” McCullough said. He suggested fixing that with better lighting and more seating.

RDG staff have said they’re focused on creating better connectivity with the Greenway. They also indicated they’d like to remove walls and other barriers restricting access to Town Square.

Landscape Architect Bruce Niedermyer said designs could be tweaked to incorporate more historic elements.

“Obviously, the flood is a big thing,” he said over one drawing where a walking path around Town Square mirrors the Red River as a winding path.

Up next

“After this week we’ll put all of the ideas into a package, and we’ll share those with the steering committee,” Scott said. Specifically, he plans to scan and save all of the drawings from Wednesday and Thursday in a powerpoint the committee of city leaders will review in December.

By spring, Scott predicted RDG staff will have a draft for the Downtown Action Plan drawn. Then they’ll share the results with the public, during their next public input event they have yet to schedule.

“We realize people are really busy and we have just a few opportunities to connect with them,” Scott said. “We’re trying to be as transparent as possible.”

Emily Allen

Allen joined the Grand Forks Herald to cover local government and politics May 2018. Call her at 701-780-1102, email her at eallen@gfherald.com or follow her on Twitter, @Emily_theHerald.

(701) 780-1102