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What's next for Brainerd revitalization efforts?

Sheila Haverkamp, Brainerd Lakes Area Economic Development Corp. executive director, gives an update to those gathered for the BLAEDC annual meeting Tuesday at Arrowwood Lodge at Brainerd Lakes in Baxter. Renee Richardson / Brainerd Dispatch

BAXTER—At an annual economic development gathering Monday, one word was repeated to describe recent events in Brainerd—momentum.

Whether Brainerd made it to the final short list of cities still in the running for a $500,000 prize will be known before some residents have lifted their heads off their pillows this morning. Brainerd and the other cities in the top 10 will find out who made it to the final five following a 6:30 a.m. announcement Tuesday, Feb. 13, on Facebook Live. The announcement triggers the start of the weeklong public voting period, which will decide the contest winner.

If Brainerd is in the final five, people will be able to vote once per day, per email address. The community effort behind the campaign to promote Brainerd established a website—www.mybrainerd.com—for more information. The campaign is using #MyBrainerd on social media to help spread the word and engage residents, visitors and Minnesotans in the effort. If Brainerd is in the final five, people may sign up to get daily reminders to vote, by texting MyBrainerd to 41411 or by visiting www.mybrainerd.com. Votes may be cast from 6:30 a.m. Feb. 13 to 8 p.m. Feb. 20.

The public's pick will be announced at the end of February.

The Deluxe team, with series host Amanda Brinkman, who is Deluxe's chief brand and communications officer, visited Brainerd last month. The city visits were part of the process of whittling the top 10 down to the final five.

The team visited each city on its top 10 list to find out what made those communities unique. Brinkman said the team was looking for towns with viable small businesses and a sense of community support for them. The contest is meant to ignite a spark about the importance of small business, Brinkman said.

Small business success, the economic trends and workforce challenges were among the topics at the Brainerd Lakes Area Economic Development Corp.'s annual meeting Monday at Arrowwood Lodge at Brainerd Lakes in Baxter.

Matt Kilian, Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce president, said whether Brainerd is in the top five or not, the community can build on the positive momentum. Recent noted developments in downtown Brainerd included the opening of Sage on Laurel, ongoing renovations at The Last Turn, reinvestment in government buildings, the Destination Downtown contest, a crowdfunding project to display art downtown and a potential downtown location for a regional children's museum.

"We continue to embark on the revitalization of this historic part of our community together," said

Sheila Haverkamp, BLAEDC executive director. "The River to Rail initiative was developed and built on the momentum of these very valuable projects."

The River to Rail project looks at what could be possible in embracing connections and possibilities between the Mississippi River and Brainerd's beginnings as a railroad city, preserved in the Northern Pacific Center. The concept encapsulated in a video shows what is possible, such as trails, green space, housing all linking Brainerd's legacy as a railroad city with what is arguably its biggest natural attraction in the Mississippi River.

"A River to Rail community event is scheduled Monday, Feb. 26, to learn more and gain your input," Haverkamp told the group. The meeting is at the Northern Pacific Center in Brainerd.

Mike Angland, Brainerd Restoration president and an architect and vice president at Widseth Smith Nolting, provided an update on the River to Rail initiative

"Brainerd has a unique history. It has a unique culture. And it's now experiencing a renewed energy towards its downtown that has now created a new momentum," Angland said. He added the renewed interest links numerous partners from private investment to government to nonprofits. Angland said River to Rail was created to provide a platform for sharing this vision of what could be. It's about collaboration, he said.

Brainerd Restoration is fundraising and working with the American Legion to create a mural on the side of the Legion's downtown building to celebrate veterans and add visual interest to the downtown area. The mural idea was one of the suggestions when the River to Rail project was introduced. "It's working," Angland said. "It's working very well."

"The common question that has been asked about Brainerd—the area between the Mississippi River and the Northern Pacific Center—is what if? Angland said. "River to Rail is here to answer that question with another question and that is—what next?"

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