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Our Opinion: Destination Downtown challenge another positive step for Brainerd

Downtown Brainerd appears poised to turn a corner as a destination spot once again.

New restaurants have opened or are planning to open, new businesses are renovating and looking to locate there and organizations are looking at the city core for office space.

It certainly seems downtown Brainerd could be on the cusp of a renaissance not seen in decades. Which makes it all the more appealing to see the community get behind an effort to award $50,000 to an entrepreneur looking to start a new business in downtown.

That plan is the Destination Downtown Brainerd business challenge, and the $50,000 reward is a community-wide effort to provide logistical, legal and a number of other services a starting business would need.

"We need to start getting people to look at downtown a little differently," Matt Kilian, Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce president, told the Brainerd Dispatch Editorial Board. "We want to get a buzz going that it's a cool, trendy place."

Yes, in the past there have been numerous committees formed and plans drafted that deal with revitalizing downtown. We're not knocking those, but to date little from them has come to fruition. The Destination Downtown challenge, however, has a different feel in that it's not just offering a vision or a premise but actual resources. It's an idea that we're optimistic will work and one we definitely can get behind.

"What this represented to (the downtown marketing group) was something actionable. This is a project where I think we can make a difference," Kilian told the editorial board.

Contest organizers identified a four-block area of downtown Brainerd with 13 properties available for lease as the location. And they decided on other parameters. The business couldn't be one relocating from another area or city. It could be an expansion into a new product or services.

Initial applicants will have to answer questions about their business idea, how they describe themselves as an entrepreneur and what they will do to make the venture successful, how it will make downtown Brainerd successful, as well as why the contest prize would be a boost. From there a committee of community leaders will send 10 applicants forward to develop a business plan and take part in a "Shark Tank" presentation to judges. The winner will be revealed Nov. 16.

Brainerd mayor and downtown business owner Ed Menk said the goal of the contest is not only to help a business that will survive on its own, but also a business that will be a destination spot.

We hope that goal comes to fruition. It's as good of a plan as we've seen for downtown Brainerd, and it's encouraging to see so many business leaders in our community get behind it. It's our hope that this effort, as well as the efforts of those already located there or planning to locate there, is the beginning of great things for the heart of the city of Brainerd.