Good to hear from you. We greatly appreciate positive stories about the importance of downtown to overall economic vitality of Northfield.
Indeed, I had a lengthy conversation with Craig about this issue. I also sent him an extensive e-mail, following up on our conversation with further thoughts on the subject.
At the NDDC, we believe that although there may be a number of groups that speak up for our historic and authentic commercial and cultural center, there is only one organization that specifically advocates for downtown. In fact, that is precisely why the Founding Fathers, Bardwell Smith, Brett Reese, Jim Braucher and Keith Covey, created the organization.
Ironically, during work on one of those many studies, the DSU “Downtown Improvement Strategies” back in 2003, City Staff suggested creating a downtown organization. Then Chamber President Robert Bierman and then NDDC President Brett Reese responded by stating that this particular piece of the puzzle was already in place.
I cite this following story because I think it illustrates why implementation of ideas seems to move so slowly. For many months in early 2003, an ad hoc task force of the NDDC, the so-called “Action Squad”, walked the downtown, reviewed its strengths and weaknesses, conducted some analysis, did considerable research, and then presented their recommendations at a Council Work Session in July of 2003. The recommendations included way-finding signage, colorful new banners, trash can repair, and the addition of some bike racks in downtown.
The City responded with the hiring of DSU Research to do a study of issues affecting downtown Northfield. The NDDC’s Action Squad was told that their recommendations would have to wait until the DSU study was completed. The report was finished in December of 2003.
As a result of the consultant’s report, it appears that the City agreed that some aesthetic steps needed to be taken. They hired DSU for some additional consulting work and the Downtown Streetscape project was born. Fortunately, the Streetscape team agreed with the Action Squad and in the fall of 2006, we got six or eight bike racks installed in downtown. During this same period, the NDDC raised thousands of dollars in private money for colorful new banners and the City repaired the trash cans. The City also hired consultants to work on the design of the way-finding signage.
I think “the biggest issue” is that the private sector, the downtown stakeholders that are a part of the NDDC, and the public sector, city staff members who have part of their work portfolio relating to the downtown, need to find common ground on the prioritization of the use of scarce resources. The values and constraints of these two sectors are not completely the same and often it takes what can be a frustratingly, no doubt for both sectors, long time to find this common ground.
As I was recently advised on the property tax issue, if you think something is important, you can never give up. I think that the NDDC’s role will be to continue to advocate, working together with an ever-growing number of supporters, for policies that sustain and enhance our vibrant and vital downtown.
I would suggest that you might contact members of the NDDC Executive Committee, who I copied on this e-mail. In particular, you would benefit from connecting with Keith Covey. Keith was a founder of the NDDC, two-term Mayor of Northfield, and is the current Secretary of the NDDC Board.
Thanks again for your interest in and support of Downtown Northfield,