Minot residents envision downtown's potential
By JILL SCHRAMM
Mar. 10, 2018
MINOT, N.D. (AP) — "Vibrant" is a word that comes up a lot when downtown supporters describe the future of Minot's central business district.
Merchants, developers and city leaders see potential when they envision what downtown Minot might look like in 25 to 30 years. By then, people may be well accustomed to having two downtown parking ramps, a park-like gathering space and a greenway inside a flood wall along the Souris River.
Eric Hansen, owner of Urban Winery, one of the newest Main Street businesses, sees the downtown developing much like northeast Minneapolis, which has become an artists' community.
"It's a very festive and vibrant place to be. I see that as starting to happen in Minot," he said. "Now is a perfect time for renewal in business, if not in spirit."
On March 17, the Downtown Business & Professional Association will host the Magic City Market at the Parker Center, where artists and entrepreneurs will be able to take their ideas to the public. Hansen foresees the event growing and becoming a fixture in downtown into the future. He also views it as a starting point for new businesses to locate in downtown or elsewhere in the city.
"For the entrepreneurs that may not have the capital, this is an opportunity for them," he said. "It would do my soul really good if 10 years from now we have a brick and mortar business downtown that actually started at this market."
Hansen would love to see Minot State University more active downtown, maybe with art and culinary school or a downtown market where students can bring projects and business prototypes.
The DBPA is launching a program to bus Minot Air Force Base residents to downtown, stopping at MSU to pick up students. The first day is Saturday, March 17, followed by a second event on April 14. The association hopes to make it a regular event the third Saturday of each month.
"The idea is to take care of and cater to our servicemen and women," said Hansen, a board member for DBPA. The bus will run multiple trips between downtown and the base through the day into the evening. Hansen sees it becoming a regular route into the future, with stops at other Minot attractions.
Minot City Council member Josh Wolsky sees a pedestrian-friendly, bike-friendly community in downtown's future, the Minot Daily News reported . He expects less focus on parking because people will be walking and using ride-sharing services.
With the trend toward walkability, Wolsky expects features such as the downtown pedestrian bridges to become more important.
"I want to find a way to make sure that piece of infrastructure remains a part of Minot's future," he said of walking bridges, whether historical or new. "One of the things we realize is that people are more comfortable walking in places where they are separated from traffic. Walking next to a five-lane road isn't always the most enjoyable experience."
Some city plans for the downtown have envisioned a city bus depot to serve as a transportation hub. The hub would be accessible to Central Campus students, whether the building remains a high school or transitions to a middle school as has been talked about.
Bus service and walkability will encourage downtown housing, Mayor Chuck Barney said. He believes housing eventually will be built over the parking ramps, as is currently part of the design. Barney said the city hopes the current developer will be able to finish that aspect of the project, but regardless, he sees the project completed at some point in the city's future.
The completion of all new streets, water, sewer and other infrastructure over the past three years, while painful for businesses while it lasted, has the downtown in good position to attract development. However, an improvement to the road known as First Avenue remains on some people's wish list. Although that may seem an insurmountable challenge since the road is railroad property, the city now has two downtown parking ramps despite many years when just one seemed a wistful dream.
"I can feel the energy and vibrancy of the downtown," said Jessica Ackerman, who has acquired older buildings there with plans to bring them new life.
"I can definitely see the future of it. I love downtown now. What I really enjoy is the food and beverage and arts and culture and the local flavor," she said. "I want more of that."
Ackerman owns buildings on the block proposed in part for a gathering place through the National Disaster Resilience Program. She has been working with the city to see how various ideas for that block can come together into synergistic development.
"I think there's an opportunity with the gathering place for adjacent developers on that block," she said. Her vision of what that could look like for her buildings has been a work in progress.
"There are so many great ideas," she said. She is working with buildings formerly used by the railroad or that over the years have seen use as apartments, a parking garage, furniture store or antique shop. She hopes to see this history preserved.
City council member Shannon Straight said different tax-incentive financing programs or revolving loan funds might be looked at to upgrade buildings. He also foresees more downtown housing, along with some level of continued medical services as Trinity Health has proposed and new city offices that are proposed in the National Disaster Resilience Program.
Micro-communities where people can work, shop and play is the trend, said council member Shaun Sipma, who also sees less dependence on the automobile and more walkable neighborhoods. What's needed is a downtown grocery, but Sipma noted that grocery might be nontraditional and more like a year-round farmers market.
Other downtown advocates are optimistic about the potential for some sort of downtown food market, possibly a mix of food trucks and farmers markets.
"What I would like to see down there is almost a European model, where the downtown is a vibrant hub for the community," Barney said. He envisions people sitting at sidewalk tables enjoying coffee or wine or milling around to enjoy a variety of activities and different types of shops.
Margie Bolton, owner of Margie's Art Glass Studio on Main Street, expects shopping to become an experience again.
"You can't get online the experience that you get being in my shop. I think that's been my strong point all along. You can't purchase an experience online. I just think downtown is an experience. The people who will survive downtown are the people who embrace that part of it," Bolton said.
Business owners, in seeking to become part of that experience, might decide to be open evenings, when people come downtown to dine or take in activities. Bolton also hopes to see "downtown" expand from the immediate Main Street area that most people think of today into a district of multiple blocks.
"It will be a neighborhood of people who live here and people who work here and people who do business here, and I think it will be very vibrant," she said. "I think it might be our glory days again."
Bryan Schmidt, co-owner of Souris River Brewing on Third Street Northeast, would like to see more business neighbors resulting from an expanded downtown in which old industrial areas are fixed up and repurposed. He would welcome a more walkable, attractive neighborhood that could bring more people to enjoy his corner of the downtown.
"I think downtown has a lot of potential," he said. "I would love to see a nice river walk like you find in other cities."
Mike Novy, kitchen manager at Souris River Brewing, agreed a usable river greenway, with walking paths and disc golf, would give people more reason to come downtown.
Pam Karpenko, owner of Mainstream Boutique at Central and Main, predicts downtown will remain a place for small, locally-owned retail, restaurants and night life well into the future. Her dream, though, is to add some techie, futuristic and innovative companies into the mix. She also envisions downtown as a place where people come to spend the day. There would be collaborative spaces for artists; an active and engaging green space that attracts in-line skaters, biking and festivals; rooftop and outdoor patio dining; and a market square concept with street corner musicians.
"There would be so many opportunities if we embraced utilizing the street really as entertainment space," she said.
Hansen talks about a proposed, temporary closure of Main Street at the end of June for an outdoor music and movie event.
"That kind of community, family event is part of that vibrant theme," he said. "There's a real synergy downtown right now for creating this vibrant community and celebrating the fact that construction is done."
Information from: Minot Daily News, http://www.minotdailynews.com