The Kernel of an Idea

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The concern about the coming “quieter times” in downtown after the holidays and the desire to create somewhat regular and predictable “happenings” in the district (as in “there’s always something happening downtown”) has made me think of the wonderful collaboration between The Art Store, River City Books, The Contented Cow and ArtOrg for the release of the most recent Harry Potter Book.

Admittedly, the book had at least something to do with the lines of eight-year-old boys and their parents on the sidewalks of downtown. However, I’m thinking that we can learn something from this experiment. The lesson that has bubbled up in my somewhat crusty brain is that it takes three to party.

The thought is that if you have a retailer, a restaurant and a cultural organization get together around a theme, there’s a party going on in downtown.

In light of the “orphaning” of the programming on Bridge Square for Thursday nights in the Summer, there have been discussions about trying to get a relatively dynamic happening every Thursday. In fact, people have suggested that the ultimate goal is some kind of event every Tuesday and Wednesday night too.

However, everything takes time, energy and other resources. A couple people have suggested that maybe we should start with Third Thursdays and build from there.

So I guess I’m trolling for three organizations (a retailer, a restaurant and a cultural organization) to volunteer and come up with a unifying theme for January 19th. Let me know how we can help.

Thanks much and Happy Holidays.

Selling Canterbury by the Sound

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Canterbury is a historic cathedral town in southeast England. As the starting point for Chaucer’s fictional pilgrimage, true site of Roman mosaics and allegedly the site of many a ghost, the town has a thriving tourist industry. In recent years, however, the community has sought to attract a different and younger crowd and their promotional efforts have gone into newer vehicles.

In the late 1960s a number of local musicians joined bands that went on to establish regional or national reputations. Canterbury boosters claimed that these local musicians were a key ingredient to those bands’ success and attributed it all to the “Canterbury Sound”. Although the term was never taken seriously by the Canterbury musicians themselves, the myth of the Canterbury Sound began to spread throughout England. As people compiled histories of the English music scene, the Canterbury Sound became part of the lore.

As people began to talk about, search for, and try to attract the Creative Class in the 1990s, people in Canterbury realized the potentially powerful lure of a history of fostering creativity in the community. A four-volume CD of early recordings of the garage bands that helped hone the chops of local musicians who then moved on to bigger and better things was created. It was called “Canterburied Sounds”. Although the sound quality of these old reel-to-reel tapes was quite poor, it added to the aura surrounding this community.

In the summer of 2000, the first Canterbury Sound Festival was held. The three day festival attracted people from all over England and Europe. Canterbury increasingly was perceived as being hip and therefore attractive to 20 somethings.

I have heard ancient lore of a Jesse James Music Festival. It is my understanding that many of the musicians that participated in the event, most of them local, went on to participate in great things, regionally and nationally.

Let’s assemble the old tapes and burn the CD.

Note: Background information for this entry came from an article titled “New Tales from Canterbury: The Making of a Virtual Scene” by Andy Bennett in the book Music Scenes edited by Bennett ad Peterson.

The Importance of Public Infrastructure to Downtown Vitality

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Back in 2000, when the NDDC was started by Northfield residents Bardwell Smith, Keith Covey, Brett Reese and Jim Braucher (assisted by Dave Lyon), a number of downtown models from around the country were researched and evaluated. The one that has most consistently provided guidance for the organization is the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Mainstreet Program.

The Mainstreet Program has a four point approach to downtown vitality. The points are:

1) Organzation: getting everybody working together in the pursuit of common goals.

2) Promotion: creating a positive image in the area to encourage people to live, work, shop, play and invest in the downtown district.

3) Design: fostering good design and maintenance practices in the downtown district, enhancing the physical appearance of the district by rehabilitating historic buildings and public spaces, encouraging appropriate new construction, and developing sensitive and responsive management systems for the area.

4) Economic Restructuring: building on a community’s existing economic assets while expanding and diversifying its economic base to increase overall vitality.

The creation of the NDDC was a major step forward in addressing the first point. Increasingly over the past few years, the NDDC, working alone and in collaboration, has helped bring about increased efforts on the second point. Efforts on restructuring the Downtown Revolving Loan Fund and pursuit of CDBG grants for historic structures has brought attention to our existing assets and may have helped spur a recent surge in private investment in downtown, while recent support from the Southern Minnesota Initiative Fund, the Economic Development Authority and the College Board of Business Consultants has gotten us off to a good start on the the recruitment of a more diversified mix downtown, these represent the two parts of the fourth point.

It is the NDDC’s pursuit of the third point that has seemed to produce the most sparks.
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Council Approves “The Plan”

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The city council voted unanimously to endorse “The Plan”, staff’s recommendations to spend this year’s TIF money dedicated to downtown improvements.

In 2006, $305,000 will be spent on actual projects, with $78,500 being used for programs, plans and studies (at least according to an article in the December 17th Northfield News). The spending in this 3rd year of downtown improvements has a higher percentage of the dollars going to actual physical projects than in previous years. This is good news.

One of the three priorities of NDDC stakeholders, Wayfinding Signage, is being designed in 2006, perhaps for implementation in 2007. We remain hopeful that in some not-too-distant year the other two priorities, Bike Racks and Newspaper Box Corrals, will be included on the project lists.

Suburban Parking Requirements Threaten Character of Downtown

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In less than a week, two sudden changes in plans have undermined years of community process. Of even greater concern, these design changes signal a break with one hundred and fifty years of architectural tradition in Northfield.

The first change came at last Thursday night’s Public Input Session on the Q Block. It was announced that it wasn’t economically feasible to build a two story building on what is the southwest corner of the Highway 3 and 2nd Street intersection (site of the former Quizno’s). I believe that this economic analysis is based solely on the parking requirements determined by suburban-style commercial development.

Ironically, when the NDDC was in the early stages of advocating for a traffic light at the intersection of Highway 3 and 3rd Street (where the Quarterback Club greets State Farm Insurance), we were told that the two story development envisioned for the northwest corner of the Q Block (site of the former Quizno’s) would produce traffic calming that would make the traffic light at 3rd Street unnecessary. Lucky for us, we appreciate irony.

The second change came at this Tuesday night’s Planning Commission meeting. The commercial component for The Crossing development has been substantially reduced and the two story building at what is the northeast corner of Highway 3 and 2nd Street (site of the former Schultze’s bike shop) will now be a one story building. The developer said that the changes were soley driven by parking requirements, “The commercial was sized to fit the parking”.

For years, at least back to the September 25-27 1998 City of Northfield/EDA Design Charette, many people envisioned that the design component of this important intersection would reflect that of two city streets intersecting through the construction of two story buildings rather than allowing the state highway (in our vision, to be renamed John North Boulevard) to determine the design. In less than a week, these years of effort have been wiped away.

The Crossing is in our C-1 zone, or downtown district. The Q Block is in our C-2 zone, or downtown fringe district. The character of these districts has been a continuation of a sesquicentennial’s worth of commercial construction: multi-story buildings near the edge of the sidewalk, not a large expanse of neatly landscaped parking lots with one-story buildings off in the distance.

Perhaps there’s still a chance to preserve the community’s historic vision…if only people speak up.