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To Advocate, Promote, Grow and Improve

Get to know the DDA

By Danielle Piekarski

In the heart of Greater Grand Forks, lies a bustling downtown area that thrives on the energy of its community. But this vibrant hub didn't achieve its current glory overnight; it was the result of the passion and hard work of a group of community members who came together to create the Downtown Development Association (DDA).

In 2013, the DDA was founded by a group of 13 downtown business owners and enthusiasts who recognized the potential of the area. The DDA began as a board of volunteers, and they never wavered in their determination to grow downtown. Shortly afterwards, the organization appointed its first full-time executive director, and secured the necessary funding to bring the vision to life.

In the early days, the DDA focused primarily on organizing events to generate funds and attract visitors to the downtown area. From the Downtown Street Fair to the soulful Blues on the Red concert series, these events not only brought joy and excitement to the community, but also paved the way for major investments that would shape the downtown landscape.

The DDA continues to host the Downtown Street Fair, Blues on the Red, HollyDazzle: Festival of Lights, and Downtown Frosty Forks programming that includes the Downtown Ice Rink in Town Square; but the organization’s work goes well beyond organizing events. "The mission of the Downtown Development Association is to advocate for, promote, grow, and improve the downtown community," Svea Benefield, vice president of marketing at the DDA, proudly stated. Through their work, the DDA has enhanced accessibility, safety, and quality of life in the downtown area. They have championed good urbanist principles and played a pivotal role in transforming underutilized spaces, like Town Square, into vibrant spaces of activity.

One of the DDA's most significant accomplishments was its involvement in the development of Arbor Park. The DDA publicly supported the development of Arbor Park, and initiated and executed the "Vote No to Grow" campaign. Grand Forks residents voted to move forward with the expansion, and in 2019 the "Selkirk on 4th" condos were built. The park's successful development created a domino effect that led to a remarkable $76 million in downtown development since 2021.

Amidst their ongoing efforts to revitalize the downtown area, the DDA encountered a transformative opportunity in the form of the Lowe's Hometown Grant. After hearing about the opportunity, the DDA decided to take a leap and apply for this national grant. If the DDA would receive the grant, the goal would be to give Town Square some much needed improvements. In June of 2022, the DDA received word that they were in the top 200 finalists for the grant. The DDA’s application made it through the final review process, and was selected as one of 100 organizations across the US to to receive $100,000, and the first and only North Dakota recipient.

The DDA had to work quickly, as they only had 90 days to implement the updates. In partnership with The City of Grand Forks, and additional funding from the Myra Foundation, and Visit Greater Grand Forks, the funding from the grant was used to add security cameras, accessible seating options, increased lighting, multigenerational instruments, outdoor games, exercise equipment, and fire pits. Thanks to the DDA, the Downtown Town Square is now accessible to everybody year-round. The updates of the Square were showcased by hosting the first-ever UND Homecoming Pep Rally. Organizations, including the UND Alumni Association & Foundation, the University of North Dakota, and North Dakota Athletics, partnered with the DDA for this event. The DDA acknowledges the importance of a relationship with UND students and believes that events like this help to grow our downtown community.

During the planning phases of the UND Homecoming Pep Rally in Town Square, the topic of community murals was discussed. Interest was expressed in collaborating on a new downtown mural to connect UND campus with the community. The DDA met with UND staff to determine possible locations, inspiration, and the mural process. After deciding on the mural location and getting the property owner on board, the creative process began.

The Three Brushketeers, a local art trio, was chosen for the job. After more than 200 hours of work and countless cans of paint, the Town Square mural was complete. With nods to UND's colleges, the UND Fighting Hawk, Grand Forks icons, and the infamous waterwheel, the Town Square mural truly encompasses some of the features that make the area so great. And what better place to unveil this amazing community partnership than the first-ever UND Homecoming Pep Rally! Having organizations behind community collaborations like these ensure that improvements and community connection continues to happen. Additionally, the mural beautifies the public space and makes for a great photo!

The DDA's bike share program, Grand Rides, is another testament to their commitment to inclusivity. Funded by various partners like Altru Health System and The City of Grand Forks, the DDA has been able to make updates to the Grand Rides program. By investing in GPS units for all 60 bikes and making the rides completely free, they removed financial barriers and ensured that the program catered to all ages and abilities, encouraging a healthier and more active community. These bikes are used by students and community members for both recreation and transportation. The DDA further plans to pilot e-bikes and two adaptive bikes to make for an inclusive fleet.

As the DDA continues to expand its reach, other new developments have been unveiled. The Olive Ann, a new boutique hotel opening soon in the heart of downtown, promises to offer luxurious accommodations, a state-of-the-art fitness facility, and a rooftop bar that will be a premier event location. The venue will be a place for tourists and locals alike to enjoy a Lululemon Fitness Studio, a Sweetwater Coffee & Tea shop, and an excellent view of downtown Grand Forks. With other projects like The Artisan, Franklin on 4th, Block V, The Beacon, and The Hive underway, downtown Grand Forks is poised for an even more remarkable transformation.

Our community, and especially our downtown, has come a long way since the flood of 1997. The DDA provides our community with peace of mind knowing that accessibility, safety, beauty, and economic development are its priorities. The Town Square is a keen example of the small things that make a big difference in the community. Something as simple as extra lighting or leveled pavers can be just what it takes for newcomers to feel comfortable and welcomed in our city. As the DDA continues to value these aspects of their work, we can rest assured knowing that the well-being of our downtown is in great hands. G

// To view the full story, check out the digital issue here

From Issue 3, 2023

PHOTOS By Manstrom Photography and SUBMITTED By Downtown Development Association

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