The Grand Forks business community got a crash course in economic revitalization last week when tourism and downtown consultant Roger Brooks delivered his analysis of what needs to happen in the city to bring business back after last year’s floods. Among his suggestions: a city plaza, consistent signage, later business hours for stores and restaurants and a cohesive personality for the city’s downtown.
“What is it you want to be known for?” Brooks asked attendees at last week’s meetings, driving at the heart of his model for revitalization: town and brand identity. In reviewing reports prepared by Community Futures after last year’s flooding, Brooks said that he got the impression that the city didn’t “know what it was all about.”
For vice-Chair of the Grand Forks Downtown Business Association Danny Delisle, a take-home message from last week’s meetings with Brooks was to “take advantage of the new start.”
“The challenge going forward is getting through insurance, getting people back on their feet and getting the doors open,” Delisle said. Within that challenge though are two concepts: drawing in business to bring people and life into downtown, while simultaneously attracting visitors to the area in order to show prospective or wary businesses that setting up shop in Grand Forks would be worthwhile. Between the two, business leaders have said that there’s been a morale issue post-flood.
“People are coming forward and offering to help. After everything the town’s been through, that’s amazing,” Delisle said of the business community rallying around Brooks’s suggestions.
For instance, Delisle said, John Zibin of The Source took it upon himself to bring some outdoor seating and shade to his storefront — a step towards the suggestion from Brooks that at least 30 benches be added to Market Avenue, or what he termed the “Market Avenue District.”
“A lot of it is just simple stuff that I think people needed to hear from a different perspective,” said Delisle, who said he was impressed with how Brooks highlighted things like cycling and the need for bike racks downtown.
Mayor Brian Taylor also heard Brooks’s presentations and came to a similar conclusion.
“Sometimes,” Taylor said, “people internally won’t listen to you, but you bring in someone from outside that they think is an expert and all of a sudden they all pay attention.”
For him, many of Brooks’s proposals that engaged the audience were a repackaging of disparate ideas that others have put forward before, such as the suggestion to turn the intersection at 2nd Street and Market Avenue into a four-way stop.
“We’ve been talking about this for years,” Taylor said. “I think he made a good case for safety.
“We’ve got a straight open street, right down to the mill. There’s no excuse for the kind of speed that you see on that street, so let’s slow it down.”
Taylor said that a meeting on safety signage in the city will be held today and that the intersection in question will be addressed.
At one point during his presentation, Brooks brought up the 2nd Street supportive housing complex, noting that in his opinion it would not be a good idea to host it so close to the city’s downtown. In response, Taylor stood up to take exception, saying that the consultant was deviating from the reason that he was there.
“It would have been more productive if he would have recognized that we don’t really have a choice, and instead look at how we could best manage that,” Taylor said on Tuesday. “I think he has some responsibility to help us from the position we’re in.”
As things stand, BC Housing may be building a supportive housing building that would permit private drug and alcohol use at the corner of 2nd Street and Central Avenue, right at what Brooks determined could be the official “gateway” to Grand Forks’s business centre.
Regardless of the housing debate, both Delisle and Taylor agreed that the energy brought forward in last week’s consultations will lead to a more enlivened downtown.
“I think he’s built some excitement and hopefully we can respond from the city to the kind of requests that he is building the community to ask us,” Taylor said.