DEVILS LAKE, N.D. — Organizations in Devils Lake hope to collaborate on a plan to enhance its downtown area for the city of 7,300 residents.
The city’s Chamber of Commerce announced a downtown initiative that would include assessing downtown activity and recommending steps to improve it, according to a news release. It’s a chance for community members, city organizations and the private sector to work together to form a vision for the downtown’s future, said Chamber Board Chair Mike Dunn.
“The health of our downtown business district is very important to Chamber members and the community of Devils Lake as a whole, and as such, the Chamber Board has listened to its members and is moving forward with the Downtown initiative,” Dunn said. “A number of our retail members have stepped up to support this effort, and everyone is excited to see what working together can achieve.”
The initiative is expected to cost $28,000, Vistad said — $5,000 will come from a Devils Lake Forward mini grant, $5,000 from the city’s beautification fund and the rest from private donors. The initiative project should kick off in July and be finished in four to five months.
It’s not the first move by a Devils Lake organization to emphasize the importance of the downtown area. The Downtown Devils Lake Alliance became a nonprofit with the state last year and filed federal papers earlier this year. It has been meeting monthly to discuss ways to revitalize the area.
“Things have been going really well; we’ve had a couple that have been well-attended,” Alliance co-founder Amber Sander said. “Somebody said something really nice about our group specifically, that if you want to join a group of doers, join the Alliance.”
Downtown has seen some turnover in recent years, whether it be from businesses moving to more visible areas like the U.S. Highway 2 corridor or long-standing shop owners retiring. About 20 stores opened in downtown in the past 10 years, though nine — that includes two of the new stores — closed.
Work on launching the initiative has been about a year in the works, Vistad said. The Chamber looked at other cities, including Grand Forks, to see how they turned around their downtowns. Chamber staff also interviewed downtown businesses in Devils Lake.
“That’s when we realized there is a huge need for some change in our area,” she said. “Since that time, we have done a lot of research and work and determined that we needed to get on board and make some changes ourselves.”
The Chamber hired Mark Schill, vice president of Praxis Strategy Group in Grand Forks, and Jonathan Holth, co-founder of the Grand Forks Downtown Development Association, to help guide Devils Lake’s initiative in strategizing the future of downtown Devils Lake.
“Your downtown is your differentiator,” Holth said in a statement. “It’s the heart and soul of your community, and it’s a reflection of the community’s health. Mark and I are excited to help downtown Devils Lake take the next steps toward becoming a regional source of pride and economic driver for the community.”
The Chamber hopes to work with the Alliance, as well as other groups and businesses across the city.
Amber Sander is excited about the Alliance working with the Chamber on the initiative.
“Anything that any of us can come together to do is great,” she said.
Improvements won’t happen overnight, and the city needs to find groups that will make it happen, Devils Lake City Commissioner Ben Sander said. He added larger cities like Grand Forks have shown people can get on board to bring out the potential of their downtowns.
“We have such an attraction with the lake in tourism,” he said, adding he wants the city to be “more of a part of the lake as opposed to a city next to a lake.”