BY: GENEVA NODLAND firstname.lastname@example.org
Whether you are a Moorhead native or have made your home here throughout years at MSUM, you may be familiar with the businesses that make up downtown Moorhead. There’s also a strong likelihood that you aren’t. That is exactly the reason the Downtown Moorhead Inc. has something special in the works. However, they’re only executing the plan, they want the community to create it.
The nonprofit, Downtown Moorhead Inc. (DMI), was established in 2016. Having past experience with the business, most recently with the City of Fargo, Derrick LaPoint was hired in April of 2018 as the first President and CEO of DMI. Later that year, the City of Moorhead approached LaPoint and DMI about a contract to do the economical development work. Although he didn’t grow up here, LaPoint says he can see the potential to do something and get creative within downtown Moorhead.
The board is made up of 15 members, ranging from local business people like Matthew Leiseth, president of Hornbacher’s; and Steve Scheel, CEO of Scheels; to the presidents of the universities, like our own President Anne Blackhurst. Being a Moorhead resident who lives close to downtown Moorhead, Blackhurst has “personal interest” in DMI’s plan, as well as a voice for MSUM on the board. Blackhurst said when writing the bylaws for DMI, it was agreed that the local university presidents would have “standing seats on the Board,” whereas other positions have “fixed terms.”
“From the beginning, we believed that our Moorhead educational institutions should have a permanent presence on the Board of Directors for Downtown Moorhead, Inc. (DMI),” Blackhurst said.
The board works together closely, according to LaPoint. They meet every two-three months to discuss where the nonprofit is at with things like goals, next moves on the downtown master plan and financial needs, as the board is responsible for the continuous effort in raising funds. LaPoint and the board members also work with Stantec Group, who they hired as a consultant along with sub-consultants with more local ties.
“I could have the grandest visions—my board could—but if you don’t have the backing of the public and the city, it’s hard to do anything,” LaPoint said.
DMI is currently in the public engagement stage of their master plan, which is what students and the community have been exposed to over the last few weeks.
Pop-up events like Bridge Bash on Sept. 5 and the open house last night at the Hjemkomst Center provide DMI with public feedback on what downtown needs and examples of things that would bring people there.
Along with events, DMI has created an online survey to gather more opinions and specific examples from participants. The survey has over 700 responses . According to LaPoint, there is no specific demographic group that is dominating the conversation on where and how to take on downtown. President Blackhurst believes there is an important relationship between downtown Moorhead and MSUM, and students should take part in the process of figuring out how to execute the plan.
“This is a unique opportunity to create the kind of community we all want,” Blackhurst said, “… If students want a downtown that’s created with them in mind, they need to provide input into the planning process.”
Another round of public engagement from DMI is expected in January.
“I really feel, and I’ve felt it for probably the last eight months, that there is a desire for change,” LaPoint said. “People are wanting to support, they want to be proud of something.”
There is the question of how downtown Moorhead will compare to downtown Fargo, being just across the river, but LaPoint assured that that is not their focus or their inspiration.
“We know we can’t be Fargo, we don’t want to be Fargo, (but) we can compliment,” LaPoint said. “There’s value in not trying to compete, but trying to compliment what they can’t have and vice versa.”
LaPoint said that DMI hopes to continue gathering feedback by going to campuses like MSUM to hear even more from students in the future, eventually bringing some ideas to life in January.