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Letters: Main streets have changed over time

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In 21st century Park Rapids the term Main street is an oxymoron. A half century ago it was appropriate. At that time, it was the main commercial street of the city. There was a hotel, car dealerships, bank buildings, a newspaper (this one) and some 40 other businesses all located in the hub of the city. That day has passed.

Now the main streets, in reality, are long Highways 34 and 71, where there is room for larger buildings and acre-sized parking lots. For those reasons, even if you were to gold plate Main street, those businesses would not return. It is up to us to realize that rebuilding Main street should be about something other than enticing back big businesses.

As with the vast majority of cities, both large and small, main streets have taken on different characteristics. Instead of becoming urban-commercial, they became picturesque, inviting, pleasant places for small shop owners, restaurants and browsers. In this respect, our Main street might still have a viable future.

For example, a half-century ago there were only about 40 resorts listed in the phone directory for this area. Today there are over 100. Despite the burden of ever-higher property taxes and stricter environmental laws, that industry has increased to the point where nearly $11 billion is added to the state's gross receipts each year.

Wouldn't it be better to make Main street more attractive to those big spenders than to try to wish back an era long past? Take the example of Crazy Days, where the full length of Main street is jam-packed with browsers and buyers having a really good time. Instead of two center lanes of parking (and the resultant dented fenders), how about a grass, tree-lined walking path down the center of Main street, with benches and picnic tables. It could perhaps create a 365-day a year ambiance of Crazy Days. It would, of course, require more side street parking.

What to do with all the empty buildings on Main street? How about the city taking over some - as other cities have done - and turn them into mini-museums of times past?

In winter, Park Rapids may not rival Aspen or Sun Valley, but it can provide snowmobile trails, cross-country skiing and skads of lakes for ice fishing and skating. Year-round I'm sure the resorts would appreciate being able to modernize without a resultant hike in property taxes. Surely the county commissioners could allow that to happen. After all, the money resorts bring in is spent with businesses in this area, whereas the money from taxes simply pays the county's bills.

Tom Swinson, Park Rapids

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