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Public forum inspires conversation

Craig Ruhland, JLG architect, amends a board listing the community's key priorities for built features that will become part of downtown Dickinson's town square. A public forum on the project Tuesday drew nearly 100 to Dickinson Public Library. Brandon L. Summers / The Dickinson Press 1 / 4
Jessica Cote, owner of The Sweet Melange, left, participates in a public forum on downtown Dickinson's proposed town square project, voting on what she would like to see for its art features. She is joined by husband Derrick Cote, left. Brandon L. Summers / The Dickinson Press 2 / 4
Mayor Scott Decker lauded the community's involvement in a public forum Tuesday to help decide the key features for a proposed town square. "This is our time," Decker said. Brandon L. Summers / The Dickinson Press 3 / 4
Rob Remark, JLG Architects, explains to a crowd of nearly 100 how to vote and provide feedback at five stations on key features and issues related to a proposed town square. From the feedback, JLG will prepare designs on the town square, which will be presented at a second forum on May 10. Brandon L. Summers / The Dickinson Press 4 / 4

Dickinson citizens were asked Tuesday, "what do you want for your town square?"

Nearly 100 people attended a public forum hosted by Downtown Dickinson Association and held at Dickinson Public Library.

A town square is being developed for downtown Dickinson, to be located between Villard Street and First Street, on the east side of Sims Avenue.

The City of Dickinson has included the project in its budget for 2019 through 2022, and the DDA hopes to raise $2 million privately.

"Town square is a major component of our downtown revitalization strategy," Shawn Kessel, city administrator, said.

As part of the forum, participants visited five stations to vote on what they view as priorities in key areas and provide feedback on the project itself.

"It's going to be very important for you to see what we are looking at on a bigger picture," Klayton Oltmanns, city commissioner, said. "Your job tonight is to help us nail down exactly what we want our beautiful downtown to look like."

A town square can become a site of future private development, including housing and retail, and a community gathering area for year-round and evening activities, such as vendors' fairs and family events, Jennifer Strange, DDA executive director, explained,

"Even if you don't see yourself driving or walking to our town square," she said, "you may be able to envision seeing your kids or their kids or maybe your visiting friends or family enjoying a vibrant town square nestled right in the core of our dynamic downtown Dickinson."

A vibrant downtown is needed, Strange said, to attract and retain a 21st century workforce and keep families in Dickinson.

"Our city needs to give the next generation what they want," she said. "What they want is more than simply a livelihood, no matter how stable and lucrative that may be. They want a lifestyle that goes with it."

JLG Architects is revising the original 2015 plans for a downtown square to better reflect the community's priorities.

The city needs a place to hold events, Kessel said, describing it as "a downtown living room for our community."

The original concept designs by V3 Studio of Portland, Ore., showed features such as a moveable stage, ice rink, sculptures and water pads.

"We'll revise this," he said. "This is a concept. It's only on paper right now."

With designs, fundraising and construction, the project would take about three years.

"In order to make it happen in three years, we need your comments now," Kessel said.

Key elements for the town square include a flexible open space, with ornamental lighting and integrated art. In the winter, a fire pit and backlit structures would "activate that space," Craig Ruhland, JLG architect, said.

After a 40-minute session, the community's top priorities were reported.

For activities, the community wanted music and entertainment (small and large), a farmers market, and outdoor dining.

"A fun day downtown is what people are looking for," Shea Thomas, DDA board member, said.

Among built features, priorities included lighting that is decorative and functional, a stage for performances, and a fire pit. People also voiced that they wanted public bathrooms and bike racks.

For art, participants wanted functional features, such as lighting and bike racks, to be decorative, and asked for fluidity of art and for town square to feature both permanent art and rotating new art.

A fear for some was the availability of parking. A parking garage was suggested, but Kristi Schwartz, DDA board president, said the idea was impractical.

"They cost a really large amount of money, about $30,000 per space," she said. "We hope we have parking issues. I don't believe we do right now... I think we can work together to find solutions for those."

Participants also demanded a downtown pizza parlor, a family-oriented place as opposed to places that serve alcohol.

Mayor Scott Decker, also participating, lauded the community's involvement.

"This evening has more than met all of our expectations," he said. "This is our chance. This is our time. We have to seize the opportunity and move forward."

A second public forum will be held May 10 at Dickinson City Hall at 6 p.m., where JLG Architects will present designs for the square based on the feedback from Tuesday's meeting.

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