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Brandon Sun - PRINT EDITION

Let's plan for the future while preserving past

Brandon and Fargo, N.D., have some interesting similarities, and not just because we are both prairie communities.

Earlier this year, Brandon was named -- yet again -- as one of the top 10 Canadian cities in which to live by Moneysense Magazine.

Oddly enough, the twin cities of Fargo and Moorhead, Minn., were called one of the top 10 communities in the United States to start a business or get a job by Money magazine.

We're both college and university towns that cater to thousands of post-secondary students, given our relative size.

And we both have experienced downtown blight and deterioration and created "renaissance" districts and business initiatives to address the situation. Only in Brandon's case, we have yet to witness the turnaround.

Consider this editorial comment by Mike Williams, a blogger on the Area Voices site Renew ND who lives in Fargo.

"Twenty years ago, downtown was unattractive, to understate the situation. Several blocks qualified as blighted. There was little to draw people into the central district. People who came downtown to work got away from downtown when the workday was done. A handful of businesses were relatively successful, but overall, downtown was deteriorating."

Sound familiar?

These days, however, Fargo can market its historic downtown with its thriving energetic nightlife as one of the best places to go in the city, full of great restaurants, boutiques, lounges, an art deco theatre and an upscale hotel.

The revitalization of Fargo's downtown, now seen as one of the 10 best neighbourhoods in the U.S. by the American Planning Association, took a commitment by public officials and private-sector owners and managers, visionaries who were "grounded in business, finance, urban design and conservative government."

Brandon, by comparison, is on its way to having a downtown we can boast about. Renaissance Brandon has already invested capital into the area, which has in turn spurred investment and renovation downtown.

But we're not done yet, as is perfectly obvious with the partial collapse of the southern portion of the Brown Block last March, and the drawn-out negotiations over the fate of the buildings attached to it that have ensued.

The drama surrounding the remaining Brown Block structure and the Strand Theatre -- whether they are ultimately torn down or remain standing -- is merely a speed bump on the road to downtown revitalization. Yet the debate over the future of the Brown Block goes to the heart of what we want downtown to be.

Do we need to fix downtown? Absolutely. No city should let its core rot and be satisfied with the results.

However, to those who say we should simply demolish the downtown core and start over, perhaps they should first look south to communities like Fargo before charging up the bulldozer. Their city planners attracted new business, new ideas, and new investment. But at the same time, they recognized the need to preserve what was best in their downtown. And as a result, they have been amazingly successful.

Whenever possible, Brandon's downtown character should be preserved, for the era in which it was built will never come again. We owe it to ourselves and future generations of Brandonites. But we must be ready to embrace new ideas and change our plans if and when the past has crumbled too far.

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition May 24, 2011 A11

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Brandon and Fargo, N.D., have some interesting similarities, and not just because we are both prairie communities.

Earlier this year, Brandon was named -- yet again -- as one of the top 10 Canadian cities in which to live by Moneysense Magazine.

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Brandon and Fargo, N.D., have some interesting similarities, and not just because we are both prairie communities.

Earlier this year, Brandon was named -- yet again -- as one of the top 10 Canadian cities in which to live by Moneysense Magazine.

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