Downtown Square space in the process of taking shape, likely with a new name at some point.

    Just about everyone at some point in their lives has attended some sort of planning session. Maybe you sat around and talked about a project, while a facilitator wrote down bullet-point notes on a dry-erase board, or maybe on a huge pad of paper propped up on an easel. Maybe you broke into small groups to brainstorm, while your team leader rapidly scribbled notes. Armed with bingo dobbers or some other type of big marker or adhesive color-coded dot sticker, maybe after all the chatter you stuck certain colored dots by the project ideas you liked best.

    But have you ever actually drawn stuff at such a session? Probably not, but that's precisely what the 25-or so people who attended Saturday's Crookston Downtown Square "Design Charrette" did at Bremer Bank. In the lower level of the bank, the attendees broke into four groups, each of which was presented with large, blank maps of the Downtown Square space, located where Central High School once stood. "And then people drew on them," Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Shannon Stassen said at Monday's Park Board meeting. "There were so many ideas included, for structures, landscaping, other amenities, and just how the space should flow."

    That was just the first phase of what project leaders figure will be many phases. Next up, Stassen said, is for Robert Gustafson, the driving force behind Saturday's effort, and the Chamber's Amanda Lien, a committee leader with the Crookston InMotion community stewardship initiative, to consolidate everything that was put forth at the 2 1/2 hour session. The future of the Downtown Square will be a major topic when the Crookston InMotion stewardship team gathers next on Oct. 30.

    "We are much closer today than we were a week ago in terms of defining the space," Stassen said.

    Public participation will continue to be sought at future discussions involving the Downtown Square, added City Administrator Tony Chladek said, even if that means continuing to lure participants with good, hot food, such as Saturday's breakfast at Bremer.

    For one thing, there's the name. Everyone's calling the new space the "Downtown Square" for now, but Stassen said Saturday's group tossed around all kinds of possibilities for a name.

    "Multi-use was a big thing that came up a lot, with the Farmer's Market sort of being an anchor tenant, but also trying to find other significant uses for the space," he said, adding that the goal is for the square to be more than a warm-weather event destination. "Year-round use was another big thing," Stassen continued. "We're cold or pretty cold around here for most of the year, so whether it's snow sculptures or ice sculptures, cold-weather use is seen as a key component."

    No matter the temperature, Stassen said everyone agrees that some type of staging is needed in the square, but "everyone is all over the map" on where to locate it. "If we're going to do it, we need to do it right," he said. Whether it's Crookston Community Theatre or some other production, for example, he said it's important that performers aren't forced to stare straight into the sun. "These are things you have to think about it so you don't make a mistake and then handcuff yourself," Stassen added.

    Saturday's discussions were not constrained by financial limitations, said Parks & Recreation Director Scott Riopelle. "We were supposed to come up with ideas without talking about money," he said, "while knowing that money will become an important consideration at some point down the road."

Thoughts, feedback
    A sampling of thoughts on how Saturday went shows that the participants took different things from it. For Laurie Wilson, she saw participating UMC students seeing the Downtown Square as an opportunity to expand the concept of Crookston being a "college town." Meanwhile, she said, "Several of us who are older were invigorated as we imagined beautiful, long summer evenings with outdoor concerts and plays or winter bonfires and holiday celebrations with friends."

    Lien and others who took part in Saturday's event thanked Gustafson for leading it, with Lien saying his efforts, free of charge, "would normally come with a hefty bill" in return for lending his level of expertise.

    Lien said the community needs to drive the Downtown Square planning process, and that means new faces who aren't already involved in everything else. It will be a community space, she said, so citizens need to speak up about what they'd like to see it become. "We are really trying to focus this into a community project that ties in historical aspects as the space was once a high school, and we have many historical buildings throughout our downtown," she explained. "We have art created by our community members and students, entertainment and sustainability aspects, along with the Farmer's Market, which is a key group to this space.

    “It has the potential to be something amazing for Crookston,” Lien continued, “Something that will affect and build up everything around it."
Next steps
    Gustafson said, as part of the continuing Crookston InMotion process, three conceptual plans for developing the Downtown Square will be formulated. The trio of plans will then be publicly presented in the near future to generate more community feedback. The result after that, Lien and Gustafson agreed, will be an "official master plan."

    If you'd like to get involved, Lien said she'd love to hear from you. Call her at 281-4320.