Housing might be a great place to start.

If downtown Crookston has a disease, then empty, deteriorating buildings are the diseased tissue that needs to be removed. If you have one deteriorating, empty building, maybe you can treat it as best you can – tarp the roof to minimize water damage, for example – and life downtown continues on as normal as possible. But if the disease spreads, then you have a problem that must be treated.

    That’s been the case for some time in downtown Crookston. The diseased tissue has been at three obvious locations on the downtown body for years. The former Wayne Hotel, despite valiant efforts over the years to secure funding for a rehabilitation project, was finally demolished. That left the former Z Place and Rock’s Jewelry buildings on Main Street, and they’re being removed this week.

    So, now what?

    Great question. The first “what” cam be found on the corner where the Wayne Hotel once was the defining point of Crookston’s downtown skyline. The corner looks terrible, OK? So let’s make making it look less terrible a top priority. The north-facing wall of the building that’s home to JJ’s Bodyshop needs a paint job. Go with one straight color if you want or do something creative; anything is better than what currently greets passersby 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If financing the paint job is a challenge, then the public and private sectors need to collaborate to make it happen.

    As for the empty space itself, as soon as the 2013 spring thaw is behind us, it needs to be greened up with some plants, flowers or a couple of small trees. If the plan for the bulk of the space is to simply provide parking, then make it obvious that it’s a parking lot. Maybe some asphalt is too much of a budget-buster, but it would sure look more attractive than gravel.

    It’s a similar story when we’re left with a huge open space at the corner of Main and Robert streets. Certainly, elaborate and expensive options are out of the question, but let’s not ignore that space too long, OK?

    With the three buildings finally a memory, let’s put the disease in remission. Positively-themed efforts to ensure downtown’s vital future over the long term – or at least as long term into the future as anyone can dare peer in this day and age – are already underway, but let’s not get too satisfied too soon. The new downtown square is great, but it’s an initiative accurately labeled “low-hanging fruit” because it’s not that expensive and it’s not that tough to make happen.

    The high-hanging fruit is something like you see happening in downtown East Grand Forks, a beautiful, multi-unit apartment building. You add that many residents to downtown Crookston, and they’re going to want goods and services located a convenient distance away.

    Does it make sense to build new in downtown Crookston? Or is rehabbing an existing, historic building the way to go? Which is more expensive? Which is less of a nightmare to make happen?

    Let’s make downtown our housing focus. We have private developers doing their thing on the housing front in multiple locations all over town, so let’s let them. There are many nice, existing houses for sale all over town that aren’t exactly selling like hotcakes, so let’s not pretend we need the city to take the lead on the residential housing front.