Downtown Brainerd discusses its potential

Downtown Brainerd property and business owners Monday night decided to take a step toward shaping the area's future. Todd Streeter, a consultant with Community Collaboration, spoke to a group of about 30 community members Monday night at First Lu...

Downtown Brainerd property and business owners Monday night decided to take a step toward shaping the area's future.

Todd Streeter, a consultant with Community Collaboration, spoke to a group of about 30 community members Monday night at First Lutheran Church. Streeter's presentation focused on engaging downtown property and business owners and explained how he could help re-energize downtown communication and organization.

In early December, a small focus group of property and business owners in the 4-block core of downtown Brainerd met with Streeter. The focus group invited Streeter back to present his ideas to all the downtown property and business owners, which happened Monday night.

Streeter focuses on achieving community success through building relationships with inclusive collaboration. His firm, Community Collaboration, uses his expertise in community engagement, economic development, historic downtown revitalization, strategic planning and project facilitation, in order to help clients achieve their goals.

As a past president/executive director of the Greater Stillwater Chamber of Commerce, Streeter helped guide a downtown revitalization process, a process he explained Monday night. He is currently guiding the city of Cambridge through a downtown revitalization effort and explained how he's using his process right now in Cambridge.


Downtowns are threatened by new commercial developments, big box retail stores and the growth of internet commerce, Streeter said. It's up to cities to adapt their downtowns to this new reality, in order for the downtown to thrive.

The traditional community engagement process relies on a top-down approach and is usually driven by a city government or outside project manager, Streeter said. This process includes committee discussion, minimal meetings and open houses, which doesn't do a good job of creating a common vision, he said. More importantly, there's no collective ownership, as the community isn't involved.

"If you only have several open houses, you can't really establish a common vision," Streeter said.

Streeter's model focuses on a bottom-up approach, where community members form a committee and do the work themselves. The people drive the process, come up with a wide range of solutions and establish a common vision, he said.

"You're all in it together," Streeter said. "Ideally speaking, anything that's good for downtown is good for all the businesses downtown."

In 2012, Stillwater started a working committee of 40 people, which included a mix of local officials, business and property owners. The group broke into subcommittees, each with its own focus, Streeter said. After months of hard work and research, the group presented a plan to the Stillwater City Council for redeveloping downtown Stillwater. Streeter is currently guiding the city of Cambridge through this same process.

Stillwater City Council member Doug Menikheim, who worked with Streeter during the downtown Stillwater revitalization effort, touted Streeter's bonafides. Before this effort, various groups in Stillwater were talking at each other but weren't talking with each other, he said. He asked the assembled community members how well they currently work together.

"If you don't, or you won't, this isn't going to work," Menikheim said.


The process Streeter proposed takes time and hard work, Menikheim said, but it does work and can effect change in a community.

"If everybody has the same goal of moving the city forward, you'd be surprised how much you can find in common," Menikheim said.

A group discussion period following Streeter's presentation touched on some past downtown Brainerd revitalization efforts, notably Brainerd Restoration. Streeter's process differs, he said, in that it's much more comprehensive and includes multiple improvements which can be implemented. Instead of going from one project to the next, this comprehensive plan provides a clear vision, he said, which helps people stay engaged over time.

"Everything ties in together," Streeter said.

Brainerd Mayor Ed Menk, owner of E.L. Menk Jewelers and the Parker Building in downtown Brainerd, said downtown is now the safest it's been in his 42 years of business there. However, the reputation still exists that downtown Brainerd isn't a good place to do business or to spend time in. It's up to the downtown community to change that perception, he said.

"We need to make certain the good actors, businesses and consumers, show up and end up owning the reputation downtown," Menk said.

David Pueringer, owner of Pueringer Investments, a commercial and residential leasing company with properties in downtown Brainerd, said he's had success renting apartments in downtown Brainerd. He previously approached the city of Brainerd about changing zoning laws to allow for more apartments in the downtown core, an idea he said was shot down. The idea might have been received differently had Pueringer's idea been presented by a large community group, Streeter said.

"One person going up to city council and making a request does not revitalize a downtown," Streeter said.


After the group discussion, city Planner Mark Ostgarden presented the downtown business and property owners with a decision. He asked them if they wanted to ask Streeter to submit a proposal to help guide a downtown Brainerd revitalization effort. If the group decides to accept Streeter's eventual proposal, the group will need to determine how to pay for the cost.

Of the about 10 property and business owners in attendance, the vast majority, by a show of hands, indicated they wanted to ask Streeter for a proposal. The only dissenting vote, again by a show of hands, was Pueringer.

If the downtown property and business owners do end up paying for Streeter's service, Pueringer said the fee should be split equally among the downtown stakeholders. He owns a large chunk of property in downtown Brainerd, he said, so he doesn't want to end up carrying the majority of the cost.

"I've only found most of the projects hinder my ability to make money," Pueringer said.

The one thing stopping Brainerd from having a great downtown is the mindset, Streeter said.

"The city's greatest asset is the community itself," Streeter said. "That means all of you."

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