Not all of the downtown merchants oppose the city’s plan to rehab the historic downtown Devils Lake but those who do are passionate about their opposition.

Not all of the downtown merchants oppose the city’s plan to rehab the historic downtown Devils Lake but those who do are passionate about their opposition.

What is the plan? First of all, the downtown area’s sidewalks and curbs need work, in many places rebar is sticking out of the curb sides and not only the sidewalks, but also the streets, themselves, are in need of some rehab, like a mill and overlay or similar maintenance.

Second, the downtown lighting is in need of repairs and/or replacement as several lights are bent and poles are damaged by decades of North Dakota’s ever-blowing wind against sometimes heavy loads; flower baskets, banners and Christmas lighting. Plus the lights, though attractive, don’t really illuminate the sidewalks as well as they should. Therefore the conversation has been to replace the lights and refurbish the existing poles for brighter more efficient lighting downtown.

All of this work will cost money and be paid through a percentage from the city itself and the remaining percentage will be special assessed, just like it would in a residential area of the town. Somewhere along the way those in charge of planning this project, like Mike Grafsgaard, city engineer, became aware of money available through the Department of Transportation and the Governor’s Mainstreet Initiative that might help pay for some badly needed beautification in the historic downtown area.

Planning began and an input meeting was held last December. Based on input from downtown businesses who wanted to see improvements downtown, the city created a special assessment district (Downtown Improvement District No. 01-18) and entered into a contract with Kadrmas, Lee & Jackson, KLJ, an engineering firm with landscape architects on staff.

A Steering Committee comprised of downtown property owners, Chamber of Commerce and city representative as well as others, worked with the landscape architects to craft a plan they felt would revitalize and rejuvenate downtown.

The questions: Since then a number of the downtown business owners, including some who were initially part of the Steering Committee, have questioned the project although the period allotted for public comment and opposition had long past. Their fear is that the amount of time needed for the construction phase of the project will so damage existing businesses that there will be those that do not survive. Why? Because their employees and customers will not easily be able to access their businesses. Tom LaMotte, owner of LaMotte’s Paint and Glass Supply company located on the west end of Fourth Street, who is leading the charge opposing the project, says he’s not sure his business can survive, that makes the “cost” of the project too high, as far as he is concerned. “What about my employees? What about the people who want to shop in our store? How are they going to get here?” Are questions LaMotte not only asks, he has them printed out in large letters on banners in his display windows.

He is convinced that the downtown does need something done, but he is also convinced that this project is not the answer. Now he’s asking for the whole thing to be scrapped. LaMotte is a long-time business owner in the city who is well liked and respected, therefore when he gathered signatures for a petition opposing the downtown project, many signed. “I am not against beautification, but this project is ‘way over the top,” LaMotte said. He’s been downtown in Devils Lake for 55 years.

One of his big concerns is the loss of parking this project will bring. The bulb-outs will eat up an estimated 47 parking spaces in a downtown where parking is limited. He’s been doing his homework, calling merchants in other cities that have done similar projects to the one Devils Lake is planning, places like Valley City, N.D., and Alexandria, Minn.. He’s talked with a number of business owners who wish they had not done the projects in their community after losing businesses. Minot lost three, Alexandria lost nine and Valley City is having the same battle right now that DL is having.

Not a done deal: According to Grafsgaard, the final step will come in the next few weeks but it’s not a “done deal.” At the June 4 meeting of the City Commission a resolution was presented for approving the plans and specifications and directing advertisement for bids for Downtown Improvement District No. 01-18. The resolution was tabled, however, to allow alterations to the plan based on feedback from the Steering Committee who had recently met with concerned merchants and offered adjustments to the plan to decrease the loss of parking in the downtown district. The City Commission instead voted to amend their contract with KLJ to provide up to $24,700 in additional funds to allow KLJ to adjust the drawings as recommended by the Steering Committee. The original plans cost the city an estimated $350,000.

If all goes as planned, the City Commission will approve the final plans and specifications and direct advertisement for bids at the June 18 meeting or the July 2 meeting, if the plans aren’t ready for the second commission meeting in June. Bids for the project will be opened in October with construction slated for 2019. After the bid opening, the Devils Lake City Commission has to approve award of the project if they want it to move forward. Otherwise, the City Commission could vote to reject all bids and not proceed with the project.

LaMotte hopes if enough Devils Lake residents - voters - contact their commissioners they could decide not to go forward. Residents are always encouraged to be informed of projects and to discuss concerns with elected officials. If someone has concerns about this project, get informed and discuss those concerns with city staff and elected officials. That is what LaMotte is calling for. He’s asking everyone who lives in Devils Lake who is opposed to this project to contact Johnston at the City Offices or Mayor Dick Johnson, or commissioners Rick Morse, Dale Robbins, Craig Stromme and Shane Hamre. Their contact numbers can be obtained by calling 662-7600 extension 1. Email addresses can be obtained from the city’s website at www. dvlnd.com where the commissioner’s home telephone numbers are listed, as well.