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'Cracker barrel' sessions great

The enthusiasm coming out of Main Avenue informational "cracker barrel" sessions has been great.

Despite a hefty price tag of $5 million, downtown business owners, in particular, have stepped up, wanting to learn as much as they can about the project and wanting to be prepared for construction.

The sense of urgency to fix up aging infrastructure under downtown roads is increasing.

Earlier this week, a small utility pipe cave-in occurred in front of Park Rapids city hall. It was minor, yes, but what might happen next?

The aging water and sewer system must be replaced. A large break could be disastrous and also have a substantial cost.

At the most recent "cracker barrel" session on Wednesday, city leaders from Wadena shared their experiences during a downtown reconstruction and revitalization project in 2003.

The project had similarities to the proposed Park Rapids project because it closed down the "main street" of town for a good chunk of the summer. It was different, however, in that it was a U.S. Highway, meaning MnDOT was involved.

Wadena's representatives said the project was successful because of a huge promotion organized by the Chamber of Commerce and business leaders in town. Having events throughout the construction to bring people downtown and having weekly drawings kept people shopping in downtown shops.

If Park Rapids is going to move forward with construction in 2010, which is proposed, it will need to have a promotion of some sort as well. The community will need to come together with enthusiasm for the project. This will keep people shopping in downtown.

Wadena has continued to have summer promotions to bring people to downtown. This might be something for Park Rapids to consider as well.

As it becomes clearer and clearer that downtown reconstruction needs to be done as soon as possible, let's make the most of it. This can be a great opportunity for the community to come together and revitalize downtown.

Another "cracker barrel" session will be from 4-6 p.m. Wednesday, June 24 at Bella Caffe. At this session, the discussion will focus on arts and how they can be incorporated in downtown Park Rapids. Those interested in offering input should attend.