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Consultants See Potential For Moorhead Revitalization

MOORHEAD – Consultants hired to help create a game plan for revitalizing downtown Moorhead say the city has many things going for it and communities that faced similar challenges have done great things.

David Feehan and Jack Hopkins recently met with more than 30 Moorhead business and community leaders to get a feel for Moorhead’s strengths and what residents would like to see happen.

“We’ve been so impressed,” said Feehan, who along with Hopkins plans to issue a report soon that will provide a review of their evaluation of Moorhead along with suggestions for how the city can approach a revitalization effort.

Topping the list, Feehan said, will be a recommendation that Moorhead form an “organizational vehicle” that will focus on the city’s downtown, similar to what Fargo did with its Downtown Community Partnership, an organization Feehan had a hand in helping reorganize about 15 years ago.

The consultants were hired by the FM Area Foundation, which sponsored listening sessions last fall to ask people what they wanted to see happen in Moorhead.

A recurring theme was the revitalization of downtown.

While Feehan and Hopkins said they found some skepticism among Moorhead leaders, they said others have voiced an interest in seeing downtown Moorhead become a thriving commercial center.

They said parking lots and other empty spaces created by urban renewal efforts in Moorhead decades ago represent a blank slate the city can use to re-create itself.

Feehan stressed, however, that it will take a committed organization with resources devoted to it in order to make a difference. He cited success stories elsewhere in the country, including Kalamazoo, Mich., where Hopkins has served as the executive director of the Kalamazoo Community Foundation for 25 years.

Hopkins said the transformation of downtown Kalamazoo from a place with blighted areas into a municipal gem was the work of many groups and interests, both private and public.

But he stressed that the organizational structure that was formed to focus that work was instrumental in creating a vision and then moving the vision forward.

Feehan and Hopkins said housing is a critical factor in revitalizing any downtown, a point underscored by Tim Beaton, executive director of the FM Area Foundation.

The foundation is a sponsor of a recently completed workforce study that aimed to identify solutions to a profound labor shortage in the region. Beaton said one of the aspects of the shortage is the lack of affordable housing.

“It’s a major piece,” Beaton said.

Moorhead Mayor Del Rae Williams said the work being done by the consultants reinforces sentiments she has heard regarding the public’s perception of downtown. She said much is already happening when it comes to revitalization.

In recent years, seven new stores have opened in the Moorhead Center Mall and a number of other businesses have also sprouted up as well, Williams said, including Rustica/Rustica Tavern, Moorhead Billiards and Junkyard Brewing Co.

“So, we’re in the process,” Williams said, adding that community members and city officials have taken a number of steps to keep growth happening. That includes the recent formation of an urban progress zone to enhance development downtown and setting up Moorhead’s Arts and Cultural Commission.

Williams said the input of consultants like Hopkins and Feehan is also valuable.

“It gets the community talking, dreaming, thinking about it. I think that’s very important,” she said.

on Oct 2, 2015