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Published July 29, 2013, 08:34 AM

Downtown GF businesses banding together

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Downtown Grand Forks businesses are banding together to boost development in the city’s core.

By: Robb Jeffries, Forum News Service

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Downtown Grand Forks businesses are banding together to boost development in the city’s core.

Named the Downtown Development Association, group member Jon Holth of The Toasted Frog restaurant and bar said the organization started when Mayor Mike Brown’s office contacted Rhombus Guys pizzeria owners Arron Hendricks and Matt Winjum shortly after Brown’s State of the City address in February. Since then, the group has set specific goals, along with a vision of the future of the group.

“Downtown is already a beautiful place,” Holth said. “We just want to bring it up a notch.”

Holth said the group plans to make a presentation to city officials Aug. 5.

“We’ve seen downtown groups in other communities work well and support their community,” Community/Government Relations Officer Pete Haga said. “The idea of having people that have invested themselves in the ongoing vitality and success of an area is a great idea.”

Haga praised the group’s progress and said the city government is interested in helping support it.

“(City officials) can’t say enough about the drive and desire that we are seeing,” he said. “We really want to find the best way to nurture that and support that.”

Branding

Holth said DDA has several specific goals, and has an overall vision to make downtown “a better, safer and more vibrant place to live, work and play.”

He said it’s not just business owners that the group wants to hear from, but anybody that “lives, works or plays” downtown.

DDA members cited branding as a priority for the group. The group already has a logo, slogan — “Go Downtown” — and a music jingle to help promote the neighborhood.

“We have a lot done already,” said Matt Norby, of Norby’s Work Perks.

Creating more events, especially family-friendly events, to draw visitors to the neighborhood is another priority for DDA, along with tackling ongoing downtown issues like parking and beautification.

Group members said they would be able to talk about more specific plans after their meeting with city officials.

Past tries

Chamber of Grand Forks/East Grand Forks President Barry Wilfahrt said while there have been similar organizations here in the past, Grand Forks is currently the only major city in North Dakota without a downtown development organization.

“Most of these groups try to promote downtown as a destination,” he said.

Wilfahrt said many downtown organizations tend to be event-based. The Chamber’s NV360 project identified the downtown neighborhood as an area primed for development, and the DDA could be a group “to really help turn (downtown) into a hot spot.”

A past effort, the Downtown Leadership Group, was active in the early to mid-2000s, but ran out of grant money for full-time staff. Another group, Friends of Downtown, formed in 2004, but later lost momentum.

As far as the past attempts to form a downtown development group go, Holth said he wasn’t worried about failure.

“We don’t know what happened with them,” he said. “We formed this group with fresh ideas.”

Call Jeffries at (701) 780-1105; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1105; or send email to rjeffries@gfherald.com.

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