Downtown dreaming

Nancy Edmonds Hanson

“What do you want downtown Moorhead to look like?” The group of Moorhead partisans called Downtown Moorhead Inc. has been asking that question for the better part of a year, and the vision is getting clearer.

After a first phase of input-seeking last fall that drew more than 800 responses from local citizens online and in live events, the quest for new life in the heart of the city took another large leap forward last Thursday, Feb. 6. More than 100 residents gathered in the Center Mall atrium to review the vision as it has begun to come together, suggesting revisions and new ideas as well as critiquing what’s already been sketched out.

Presenters from Stantec, the international consulting firm with which DMI and the city have contracted, organized the open house presentation around five districts spanning the area roughly from the river to 17th Street and an irregular area from First Avenue North to Second and Fifth Avenues South, along with Woodlawn Park and the Fifth Street corridor to Seventh Avenue.

Loosely defined, the areas include the Character District (Center Mall area) and adjoining blocks to the east and south; the Creative Pioneer District (from Hornbacher’s eastward to 17th), described in the plan as “encouraging artistic and innovative activities alongside residential and commercial uses;” the Riverfront District, with the area’s five points of access to the Red River; and Woodlawn Pointe, the city-owned site where the old Moorhead Public Service power plant once stood. Open house guests moved among these focal points and several others. One concentrated on “place-making,” the activities and public areas intended to bring people together. Another revealed plans and a new animation of how the 11th Street railroad double-underpass will work. The Metropolitan Council of Governments also shared its work on the Highways 75 and 10 corridor that intersects downtown.

Prior to the public open house, Stantec and DMI recruited local education, business and city leaders, along with artists, transportation advocates and developers, for five “walkshops” through the areas in question. “We wanted to get away from conference tables and computer screens into the elements,” says DMI executive director Derrick LaPoint. He credited Stantec lead Beth Elliott with coming up with that hands-on (feet-on?) approach. “It was her brilliant idea to do a walking tour in the first week of February,” he notes with a laugh.

Five groups of from 10 to 30 men and women trekked the streets and avenues, then shared their observations. “The weather wasn’t too bad – sunny on Wednesday and earlier Thursday with a little breeze,” he note. Along with the positive and structural observations, they agreed on present-day negative: “The ice and snow build-up was really noticeable. The area is not pedestrian-friendly by any means. Walkability is one of our most important values, so we are going to have to do a much better job out there.”

LaPoint noted that both the “walkshops” and open house drew a number of area developers, most of whom haven’t looked at Moorhead for their projects for many years. “They have noticed us. They’re asking questions,” he says. “That’s all for the good.”

The comment period is still open, with the same information shared Thursday still available on the DMI website. Residents are welcome to look over the plans and comment online at dtmoorheadplan.org; click on “story map” to access the presentation. The site will remain live through the end of February.

LaPoint cautions that everything discussed last week and online is entirely preliminary. “Nothing is set in stone. The vision and mission are ever-evolving,” he emphasizes. “What you see is the results of the comments and suggestions we’ve already collected. It’s not meant to be definitive. It’s where we are right now. We’re asking, ‘Where do you want this to go?’”

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