Melbye would like to see construction start on first structure this spring.

    Robert Gustafson, as someone new to Crookston, thought that getting involved with the Crookston InMotion community stewardship/strategic visioning initiative would be a good way to get to know the community and its people better. He was especially interested in efforts to revitalize downtown, specifically, the new Downtown Square initiative.

    "Then, last summer, the Chamber (of Commerce) found out I was a landscape architect," Gustafson told the Crookston City Council's Ways & Means Committee last week. "They asked if I could help."

    And help he has. Gustafson has come up with concept drawings for a variety of structures, shelters and performance stages for the fledgling square, located where Crookston Central High School once stood. While Gustafson and council members realize that making the Downtown Square all that it can be will likely involve multiple "phases" spread over multiple years, council members made it clear that they'd like to see "some construction" in the square as soon as this spring.

    At a design workshop last fall, Gustafson said he was impressed with the enthusiasm and creativity on display as workshop attendees walked around the site and envisioned what might be. A "first concept" didn't "generate much buzz," Gustafson said, so he gave it a second try and added a "water feature" to the square. But that didn't seem to meet the needs that community members had in mind, either, so he drew up a third concept that is significantly more elaborate than the first two. "It's a community gathering place," Gustafson said.

    He said he's been charged with possibly an impossible task, to design "permanent structures" which are also temporary and portable. Some council members are leery about pouring a bunch of concrete and building permanent structures when the city is only leasing the land. The city has a 10-year lease in place, with options to extend it after that. The city also is first in line to purchase the land if purchasing it ever becomes an option.

    Although he acknowledged that concrete can't be moved once its put down, Gustafson said city officials shouldn't get too preoccupied with the fact that the city doesn't own the land. "We're in a good position as far as a future acquisition," he said.

    The city has set aside a little bit of money for the Downtown Square, but it's not enough to finance multiple phases of construction getting underway this year. Everyone has stressed from day one that volunteer labor and donations of materials, equipment and anything else will be not only welcome, but key to the Downtown Square taking shape and growing over time. Gustafson said the next step is to agree on a master plan for the downtown amenity and get the community to rally behind it. He stressed that he wants citizens to continually offer their input on what they think the square could and should be. Local service clubs have also expressed an interest in being involved, he said.

    The master plan would also serve as a springboard for pursuing other funding opportunities, Gustafson said, adding that he's envisioning a public event during Ox Cart Days in August that will unveil for the public just exactly what the plan is for the Downtown Square going forward.

    That's fine, At Large Council Member Wayne Melbye said, but, he added, he'd like to see something built on the site prior to August. "I know it's a work in progress, but I don't want to be five years into a lease (the city is in its second year of the lease) and we still haven't really used it much," said Melbye, who's been actively involved in the Downtown Square project. "I know we need to figure out the funding part, but I would dare say that we would like to get the first element built there this spring and start using it."

    Ward One Council Member Tom Jorgens, also actively involved in the project, said he envisions a five to seven year project timeline, with Gustafson's "vision unfolding over time."

    Gustafson said he's going to work on adding more detail to the plans, to the point where volunteers or city staff would be able to look at them and know what to do at the site. "But at some point, the more elaborate you get, you're talking about structural engineering and the need for professional services," he said. "Planning is the easy part, the fun part. But site work, grading, leveling far you can take all that with volunteers, I'm not sure."