'Looking forward to summer'
While 2010's summer will be a season not to remember by Park Rapids Main Avenue business owners, the street and infrastructure project has infused an energy in the merchants.
This summer's arrival will herald a new chapter in the city's "economic vitality," with the Park Rapids Downtown Business Association planning to welcome visitors and residents with signature flower baskets and banners.
This will augment the benches, bike racks, trash receptacles and granite inlays that will debut this summer.
An Arts Commission has formed to develop a schematic for Main's banners and flower baskets, to be hung on the classic light poles by Memorial Day.
And for the first time, the true color of Main's surface will be revealed, the street covered in construction dust and gravel last summer. The street will be striped for parking designation.
"But bricks and mortar won't make us a destination point," said Cynthia Jones, PRDBA president. "We have to work to make this a year-round destination."
Locals come first, she stressed of developing niche-marketing strategies.
The PRDBA has gained insight via the University of Minnesota Extension and a recent Gallup Poll that discovered a significant link between emotional attachment residents feel toward their community and its economic growth.
The more emotionally attached residents are to their community, the more likely they will stay and spend money there, the poll revealed.
"We will have to offer a wide variety of products and services," Jones said of meeting community needs.
The "Soul of the Community" poll identified three dimensions that most strongly attach people to their community: Openness - welcoming a variety of groups, social offerings and aesthetics.
"Our focus is to bring more events to the downtown," said Maggie Stennes Wiederin, vice chair of the PRDBA
The DBA will host a street concert Aug. 18, featuring the noted bluegrass band Monroe Crossing, as an official end-of-construction celebration.
Work on side streets - Second, Third and Fourth - will begin in May with construction expected to be complete by the end of June.
If the city is chosen for the 2012 Governor's Fishing Opener, there will be a second celebration in May 2012, the governor clipping the official ribbon. The city is expected to learn of the decision in April.
The PRDBA, convening its annual meeting in mid-January, had strong representation, 30 in attendance. Twenty-four businesses have signed up for the $2,600 Main street 2011 advertising package.
Members agreed to create a walking map and passport promotion again this summer. The revamped Website, parkrapidsdowntown.com, had 9,000 hits in January alone, Jones reported.
The PRDBA may conduct a market survey to develop a profile of customers. And they are also considering a retail trade analysis, to identify gaps in products and services and avoid duplication.
The ability to purchase items on the Internet has had an impact on the conventional retailer, Jones said. "Tech's there and will grow."
This bolsters the need for exemplary customer service, Jones said of Main's attributes, including its aesthetics and unique mercantile sites. "People love walking the four blocks of Main."
The PRDBA is working closely with Alan Zemek, who is developing the former National Guard Armory to become Armory Square.
He plans to open Phase One of the project in June when Second Street work is complete. This includes space for retail shops. The second floor will have classroom space. Plans also call for a gymnasium/auditorium.
"Construction was difficult, but we got through it," Jones said, "faster than anticipated." Businesses experience varying levels of a downturn," she said. But "the contractors were excellent. And the city worked with us."
"We're coming out of this stronger," Wiederin said. "We're bonding. Everyone survived."
Now, area cities are looking to Park Rapids for advice, Jones said. She advised the building shaking during excavation requires vigilance, a piece of art the victim.
A slide show on the website chronicles the construction process.
"It was a challenge," Jones said. "But we kept reminding ourselves we did this when the economy was bad. Small towns were seeing low volume," she said of retail sales.
"We're looking forward to summer," the pair agreed.