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Stakeholders hear presentation of city core revitalization plans

The proposed downtown public plaza envisioned was presented at the Thursday meeting hosted by the Downtown Dickinson Association.

The future of downtown Dickinson could get a little more dense.

Architect Gary Reddick, president of V3 Studio in Portland, Ore., emphasized the revitalizing potential of infill, which could mean replacing surface parking lots with multi-use parking structures, and the community-building effect of a downtown plaza at a meeting of various city stakeholders hosted by the Downtown Dickinson Association on Thursday at the Eagles Club.

Reddick said changes to the city’s core could boost quality of life in the district and the community as a whole. Such a lift, he said, could increase Dickinson’s ability to retain its natives while drawing in newcomers, in terms of both individuals and businesses.

“Cities are in competition with each other,” he said. “They’re in competition to keep as many as possible of the young people that grew up there and maybe went to college there. … There has to be a reason to move back home, and many times they’re making the decision to locate someplace else.”

The various downtown property owners, business figures and city representatives in attendance at the meeting bore witness to sketches of a renovated city core in a series of presentations that included architectural overhauls, a revamped street parking structure and thoughts for the formation of a business improvement district to serve as a funding mechanism for change.

Reddick, led off the meeting’s informational sessions with a discussion of his collaboration with the city of Dickinson to produce ideas for the district’s long-term use.

As part of that, Reddick provided some renderings of what the town’s future “urban fabric” could look like if its current vacant lots, such as those on either side of the train station on Villard, were filled in.

Parking could be brought vertical with five-story structures that make use of architectural design to hide the second and third-floor parking levels while opening up room for businesses on the ground level and residences on the top.

The envisioned plaza drew inspiration from the public square in Rapid City, S.D., Reddick said, and could incorporate amenities like a functional water feature, a depressed area that could serve as an outdoor ice skating rink in the winter and plenty of open space to host events.

Reddick commended Bernie’s Esquire Club as an example of effective remodeling of existing facilities in downtown Dickinson to make better use of the space there.

That same thought track carried into the Downtown Association’s proposal for a near-term restructuring of downtown street parking.  

Downtown Association member and JLG architect Rob Remark, followed Reddick to present the group’s vision of a new parking scheme that would begin with instituting diagonal parking and parallel parking striping in downtown Dickinson and potentially result in the formation of a parking authority to reinforce parking duration rules.

Remark said the two main benefits of establishing diagonal parking on a block are increased parking availability and a subsequent narrowing of the street in that affected area.

“Just by tightening up the actual street corridor, we’ll slow down some traffic, increase walkability and continue to enhance the experience of downtown, and encourage people to come downtown,” he said.

Remark said the formation of a downtown parking authority could keep things moving smoothly and increase efficiency as downtown street parking develops further.

He said the next step of establishing parking reform in downtown Dickinson will involve working with the city to determine which downtown blocks can support diagonal parking and added he hoped to see striping and signage placement begin this summer.

Downtown Association President Kristi Schwartz ended the meeting with discussion of a proposed business improvement district aimed at bringing the public plaza to reality.

As currently imagined, the improvement district would assess all commercially zoned properties within the boundaries of a determined downtown district to prove the businesses there had “skin in the game” in improving the area.

“The objective of this proposal that we’re putting forward … is to help facilitate and support the efforts of the city of Dickinson, as well as the downtown plan,” Schwartz said, referring to the contents of Reddick’s presentation.

She added that a major focus would be a coordination of efforts between business owners, property owners and the city, and that the longer term strategy of the improvement district would help “regenerate a continued development of our downtown.”

While the exact specifications of the assessing mechanism have yet to be determined, Schwartz said the improvement district would replace the recently lapsed downtown improvement district.

Property owners within a specifically defined geographic area would essentially be assessing themselves to provide funding for various forms of reinvestment into the business community and the physical downtown space, Schwartz continued.

She described the potential activities that could be funded by improvement district money as including a range of maintenance and promotional measures for the district and the businesses within it.

Assessment rates are yet to be determined and are reliant on the district’s boundaries and the services it would intend to offer.

Schwartz said continued input from property owners is “key” to moving forward with the plan and hopes to finish the information gathering process by the end of March.

Andrew Haffner

Andrew Haffner covers higher education and general assignment stories for the Grand Forks Herald. He attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where he studied journalism, political science and international studies. He previously worked at the Dickinson Press.

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