Brainerd Restoration President John Erickson wants to light downtown Brainerd, not curse the darkness.
Installing old-fashioned, globe street lights on a two-block stretch of Laurel Street this summer will be among the first visible signs of the efforts largely initiated by Brainerd Restoration, a nonprofit corporation whose purpose is to revitalize downtown.
The group has worked hard to help Brainerd residents and elected leaders improve the downtown's ability to lure shoppers, business people, artists and tourists to what it hopes will be a fun, robust and appealing locale.
Building on the positive attributes of downtown, primarily the stately old buildings that distinguish the area from modern shopping centers, Erickson has preached how colorful banners, flowers and art projects can attract people. Many new shopping areas have abandoned the mall concept and are attempting to recreate the hometown atmosphere of 1930s and 1940s main streets, the Brainerd attorney and lifetime resident said.
Brainerd Restoration sold the city council on the concept of an old-fashioned city street. That's a start. It'll take continued political leadership or private development to bring to fruition some of the other appealing ideas that have been discussed: a town square, a convention center with a banquet hall or a performing arts center for Brainerd High School.
None of these lofty goals will be achieved overnight. And none will be achieved without the work of a determined group of inspired volunteers.
An appealing downtown that becomes a destination for tourists and residents alike should aim to complement the lakes, golf courses and other area attractions that make our population swell for three or four months out of the year. Downtown should be a pedestrian-friendly "heart of the city" with entertainment, exceptional shopping, and green space where summer visitors can treat themselves to an ice cream cone while "people-watching."
That type of atmosphere won't be created overnight when old-style lighting is installed, but it's a good start. Maybe it will open the eyes and minds of more residents to downtown Brainerd's potential.
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