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Downtown revitalization project initiates 'cracker barrel' sessions

"Cracker barrel" sessions are being organized to gain momentum for the Park Rapids downtown revitalization project.

The sessions are intended to keep everyone in the loop about the proposed Main Avenue project, which includes street and utility construction. The name "cracker barrel" comes from the large wooden barrels of soda crackers found in old country general stores that people gathered around for conversation and informal discussions.

The first "cracker barrel" is scheduled from 4-6 p.m. Wednesday, April 29 at Bella Café. City of Perham leaders Bob Louiseau, Dave Neisen and Sarah Hayden have been invited to share what they learned from a similar downtown revitalization experience.

These sessions will continue to be the last Wednesday of the month.

On May 27, city of Wadena leaders will discuss how Park Rapids can learn from their experience.

On June 24, the topic will be how to incorporate the arts into the downtown area.

"There is still momentum and enthusiasm to do this project," said downtown revitalization organizer Ellis Jones at a Park Rapids City Council meeting.

Tentative future topics include downtown rental housing rehabilitation, energy audits, logistics and financing. Suggestions from those who attend will also be considered.

These sessions are open for anyone to attend.

The Park Rapids City Council previously showed interest in putting the Main Avenue reconstruction project on the fast track in hopes of receiving federal stimulus money to fund the project.

"We wanted to be 'shovel ready,'" said Mayor Nancy Carroll. "Well, our opportunities for receiving that money seem to have passed us by."

Carroll said the project could return to a more relaxed schedule. Phase one could be next year and phase two could be the year after.

"There's a lot of local decisions to be done," she said.

The Downtown Business Association has been involved with the project and Carroll said she would like for that group to continue to provide input.

The proposed project will be constructed in two phases. Phase one includes Sixth Street to Industrial Park Road and the side streets including Sixth, Seventh, Eighth and Eleventh. Phase two is the business portion of Main Avenue, from Highway 34 south.

The council will discuss phasing options and a timeline at a future meeting.