I picked up my TRForward community survey this week. TRForward appears to be an organized collection point for proposals of what should become of Thief River Falls, Minnesota. I’ve had several different ideas about Thief River and the survey helped me sharpen them up to a point that I want to share them today.
First off, get the survey and spend a little time filling it out. The simple act of filling out the survey will make you more involved in what happens to Thief River. The survey asks for your ideas on specific projects then follows up with two questions, “should taxes be used to build” and “should taxes be used to maintain and operate” these projects. It forces you to prioritize your concept of how Thief River should grow and entertain itself. I found myself tending more towards small projects that would enhance the activities people are already engaged in on a regular basis. The recent poor economy has forced us to focus on goals that are less expensive such as personal wellness, both physically and financially, and this should be reflected in how we play. I’ve always thought Finsbury Park would be a great place for a fenced dog-walking area, and the addition of Porta-potties by the dam during fishing season would be fairly inexpensive additions.
The survey has a section about whether we like the restaurants and retail stores in town. I think our retail stores are solid. I recently compared my trip to a Grand Forks lumber yard to one in Thief River. Although, I spent a little less in Grand Forks, it was not a pleasant experience and the employees their could offer me no advice as their average age was 12. I think the main strong point for TRF businesses is experience, service and long term contact -I consider many of these people to be friends. One problem I’ve noticed is a resistance to change. My wife and I have ordered items from the corporate hub of a local franchisee and then had the item delivered to the local store. We both were then lectured by the store owner that they “don’t get a dime” from the purchase. Our visit to the local store was generated by the technology of the internet and would have been an excellent opportunity for the retailer to deepen our relationship, or sell us something else while we were at the store.
Downtown is a problem, it’s a frequent topic. The downtown businesses seem quite strong but the empty buildings overshadow the fact; downtown Thief River reminds of a gorgeous, healthy woman with a really bad hair cut. I love old buildings, however if some downtown buildings are too inefficient to support business maybe they should be torn down. Look how much better downtown East Grand Forks looks after the flood forced them to re-build. I think downtown Thief River is in the midst of a flood caused by a changing economy and a change in the scale of the stores in which we shop. It is exposing what works and what doesn’t work downtown.
I think downtown should become more residential. It will take a fair amount of initial cost but your first loss is most often your best loss. Tear down the freestanding buildings for which there is no tenant and make them into downtown parks or a town square. Downtown is strong, just remove the dead weight it‘s carrying. Empty first floor stores might be made into town homes. Even a large, empty department store could be made into condominiums with individual utilities so no one has to maintain old boilers and water heaters. These might make great entry-level homes for young couples. All of this would take money, but empty stores depress downtown, invite vandalism and vagrancy plus they cost money too.
I compare Thief River to our nation’s economy-we’re at a crossroads. Much like our nation, we are also at a time when a little effort, creativity and initial cost could pay huge dividends when played out into the future. This area needs ideas. I’ve always said it takes 100 ideas to make ten good ones, and it takes ten good ideas for one that makes money. Let’s get some ideas, go fill out the survey.
Here is a link to some more information on the TRFoward survey.