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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Brookings Downtown Model for Madison

I don't want to move to Brookings. But I'd sure like to make Madison as cool as Brookings. While Madison dithers about the menace of tall grass and residents think a Wal-mart on the edge of town would improve our local economy, ever-progressive Brookings is building a thriving downtown.

What's so great about downtown Brookings?
  1. Iconic local restaurants like Nick's Hamburger Shop and George's Pizza.
  2. A 3% vacancy rate.
  3. Downtown Brookings Inc., an association dedicated to real Main Street development, not just banners and flower baskets.
  4. People who don't see a lack of parking as a problem. "People like to complain that we don’t have enough parking in downtown Brookings," Downtown Brookings Inc. President Kris Struwe tells the Brookings Register. "That’s a good problem to have. That means people are shopping and eating here." If you go to a Twins or Vikings game, think about how far you walk from the parking lot to your stadium seats. It's probably longer than the length of either Madison's or Brookings's main street.
  5. Shop owners are upgrading their facades.
  6. Planners are considering pocket parks, little bits of green space amidst the already diverse mix of retail, services, and residences that make Main Street a place to hang out.
Madison, if you want to know how to revive our Main Street, the roadmap lies just 40 miles to our northeast. Brookings Crazy Daze is the same weekend as ours, July 30–31. I highly recommend everyone in Madison take a roadtrip to Brookings that Friday to see downtown development done right... just make sure you get back to Madison in time for Tonic Sol-fa!


  1. A great place to start would be the four corners at the south end. First of all, a couple of those buildings look so terribly run-down. It really doesn't give out-of-towners a very good first impression of our city seeing downtown clogged with a bunch of sleezy bars. It would be interesting to know what the ratio of bars to people is in this town.

  2. Agreed, David! The Four Corners isn't the most inviting architectural complex. Oh, and by my last count, we have 18 places to buy alcohol, one for about every 360 Madisonians.

  3. Sioux Falls, Brookings and Mitchell all have thriving Main Street programs. Howard will soon a spectacular new Rural Learning Center facility in their downtown. Given the choices available and the current state of our downtown, Madison has very little incentive for drawing visitors to shop and eat. Without a focused effort on improving our downtown, we will be left far behind these neighboring communities.

  4. Community-cultural summit seems like the perfect public forum to discuss some of these issues.

    What about a series of speakers over several weeks, even one day perhaps, with the focus on prgressive cultural development. Start with someone from the Brookings efforts, Mike for RLC, LAIC, Chamber of Madison, someone from Ord, Nebraska perhaps?

    Takers, talkers, gawkers, what do you think? What do you want for your community, how do we make it happen, and who's willing to step-up and take the lead?

  5. Thank you all for caring. The Montana Artists Refuge and The Ucross Foundation have imbued rural settings with talent and thrived.

  6. Bring back the old Park Hotel and tear down that metal building that took it's place.

  7. Off the top of my head, I came up with 24 alcohol joints.

    Classic Corner
    Mike Package
    Am Pride
    Trojan Tap
    Sportsman (old Elks)
    Old Burgs (can't think of the name)
    Lucky Bucks
    Cherry Lanes


  8. Here's an idea, perhaps the laundry facility in question, located at the former Park Hotel site, is another third place itself, and as such is actually a positive addition for the downtown community.

    Granted, modern metal buildings aren't ideal for historical idenity and character, but the social context is redeeming enough.

    Expanding upon that thinking, I can see the value of a structure beyond it's visual languge, with an emphasis on it's cultural and social language. We have alot of these type of work-based structures here in our community.

    I was just down at our facility last night, The BrickHouse, after the workers removed about 6 ft of earth beside our building as part of the alleyway improvement project. It's kind of reflective to look down that sudden hole, beyond the heavy clay and concrete, old bricks line the walls, perhaps from the old bank which burned many years ago, or some other lost Madison third place.

    We have a lot of history under our feet, and sometimes holes can make you think, perhaps ideas of bringing back past cultural icons, like the Park, or the Masons, or the Chautauqua experience itself, they all have merit, and that might be a good discusion to have over coffee this winter.

    Maybe too, it's not so much bringing back the actual location of past jewels, or those bricks from that hole, but bringing back the spirit of those icons, the reason which made them memorable.

    I don't have a great answer for this, do we restore our buildings for the sake of history, or do we build new facilties to create history, or do we not build anything at all, and instead focus on creating the community atmosphere we all want, these so-called third places.

    It may be that we need to do all of these, and it's the right mixture of these components that is needed. I've struggled myself for the right answer, even bumped a few heads along the way, and I've yet to come up with a great answer.

    So what does it take to make a community great?

  9. 24?! Make that one outlet per 270 residents.

  10. Brookings is definitely doing things right. Last Thursday evening their downtown was overflowing with people. Exciting to see. Tasteful landscaping (no overgrown trees!) and very welcoming. Every one of our city fathers should go see.

    Downtown Brookings, Inc. puts their documents right out there, like their Design Plan for 2010: http://www.downtownbrookings.com/documents#8

    Still seems strange it is a 5013c. Would expect city planning functions controlled by city, but it's obviously working.

  11. Ah, don't forget, John: our LAIC is a 501(c)3 as well. But yes, it is interesting that a private non-profit like Downtown Brookings Inc. can take the reins of such positive development.

  12. Chris Francis7/20/2010 5:48 PM

    Just to clarify, and be a technical geek, Lake Area Improvement, and Brookings Downtown, Inc should probably not be organized as a 501c3, rather maybe 501c6. I believed LAIC is a 501c6, I was not able to clarify this on their website, http://www.madisonworks.com/, anyone else know for sure?

    501(c)(3) — Religious, Educational, Charitable, Scientific, Literary, Testing for Public Safety, to Foster National or International Amateur Sports Competition, or Prevention of Cruelty to Children or Animals Organizations

    501(c)(6) — Business Leagues, Chambers of Commerce, Real Estate Boards, etc

  13. I know for sure. See link in above comment.

  14. Well, I hate to be the guy standing up for alcohol consumption, but I do have to say that, though they may not be the most beautiful establishments, the bars on Egan are about the only place you are likely to find anyone downtown after 5 pm on most nights. Getting rid of alcohol consumption downtown is not the way to increase foot traffic--bars and restaurants are integral to attracting people for entertainment.

    Brett Hoffman

  15. Chris Francis7/21/2010 8:46 AM

    Getting off focus a bit more,

    Should these development groups be seen as 501c3, or should they be seen a 501c6, or something else alltogether?

    I believe there is certain distinct tax privledges for both groups, anyone know more about those?

    Also, are these development groups sales tax-exempt or non-exempt, and do they pay for postage as well? Questions...


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