Major consulting firm hired to help create new vision for Downtown Moorhead

Nancy Edmonds Hanson

Downtown Moorhead’s future has been the subject of conversation since the 1990s. Now the firm step forward the city’s boosters envisioned back in 2013, when they laid the groundwork for the redevelopment group called Downtown Moorhead Inc., is gaining ground.
The Moorhead Economic Development Authority and Downtown Moorhead Inc. (DMI) have signed a contract with a major national urban planning powerhouse to put together a concrete plan for the future. The planning unit is a division of Stantec, Inc., one of the largest consultants in the country. Its projects in engineering, transportation, water and urban planning and development span 44 of the 50 states, including a North Dakota office in Fargo.
The Kilbourne Group and Folkways are included as subconsultants in the international consulting company’s winning bid of $190,000.
DMI president Derrick LaPoint says the project is expected to begin shortly and wrap up in July 2020. In the meantime, a large part of the work is not to talk … but to listen.
“One thing that made Stantec stand out is its well-defined public engagement process,” he says. “We don’t want a cookie-cutter plan applied to our city; we want to be clear on what Moorhead’s citizens want in their downtown.” The hunt for possibilities also extends to other vacant city-owned sites like the former power plant near Woodlawn Park.
“Our goal is to work with them to develop a framework for where we want to go and how we can get there. The private side,” he adds, “will do the actual building.”
The first step includes getting the Stantec team up to speed on Moorhead’s situation. It’s not all new, since they also worked on the Center Avenue Corridor project. (That redesign of traffic routes and the landscape was to have already begun, but was put on hold three weeks ago when the city received just a single bid, one that was $800,000 over budget. It’s anticipated to be back on the calendar next year.)
Next, the consultants plan to conduct listening sessions with “all kinds of Moorhead residents,” Derrick says, “not just the leaders, officials and staff who always speak up.” That will include hearing-like meetings but also informal “pop-ups” at places people gather like the Main Avenue Dairy Queen.
The third phase takes a deeper dive into the nuts and bolts of making it happen: funding sources, including state and federal, that could develop into strategic partnerships and policy incentives to spur proposals. Also on the menu are determinations of the esthetics and amenities that will make the area attractive for residents of the burgeoning number of housing units already under construction as well as businesses and professionals – retail, restaurants, corporate headquarters, private practices and all the rest of what can make the area thrive.
The planners bring extensive experience in a wide range of American cities that have faced challenges not unlike Moorhead’s – aging, dwindling downtown commercial hubs; a rapidly aging and changing population; more interest in walkable neighborhoods with all kinds of options for work, shopping and play; and growing demand for living spaces that don’t fit the 50-year suburban model.
The consulting team is led by David Dixon, an international expert on urban design named to Residential Architecture Magazine’s hall of fame as “the person we call to ask about cities.” In recent years he’s led planning in post-Katrina New Orleans, transformed strip malls into new suburban downtowns, and initiated a broad reappraisal of the role of density in building more livable, resilient, and equitable communities. Derrick notes that Dixon will visit Moorhead four times during the coming year to observe, suggest and open the city’s eyes to the possibilities of mixed-use development – including apartments for singles, couples and one-parent families to create a density that’s attractive to potential businesses.
Along with others involved in redevelopment, Derrick is convinced that the time is right for Moorhead to finally move forward. “We have a ton of positive energy right now. We have a lot of people coming tot he table, and we’ve finally captured the public’s attention,” he says. “What we do with it – now, that’s the question.”

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