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Bismarck’s downtown has come back to life in the last several years, with a cluster of interesting, independent restaurateurs, small businesses, community events and entertainment, overlaying strong banking and health care interests.

And it’s going to get even livelier. Under construction are a $23 million, mixed-used restaurant, office and condo complex on what was the former Wilhem car dealership and a three-story, steel-and-glass restaurant-bar complex on the 500 block of East Main Avenue.

People are making Bismarck’s downtown busy day and night.

All this activity will make the proposed study — the Bismarck Downtown Sub-Area study — more than a little complicated.

The horses are, as they say, out of the barn.

The study comes under the umbrella of the Bismarck-Mandan Metropolitan Planning Organization, and 80 percent of the cost will be paid for by the federal government, with the city picking up the rest. (The federal share must not be a part of the fiscal cliff.)

There are some unresolved issues in downtown Bismarck, such as:

  • The contemplated construction of a parking ramp, and a “bus transit hub.”
  • Potential future uses of the World War Memorial Building.
  • Blending with and supporting Civic Center operations.
  • Improving traffic flow.

Most of these unresolved issues have been waiting in the wings for years. Unfortunately, the contemplated study appears to have little urgency. If things go according to plan, work would begin Jan. 15 and be completed Dec. 1, 2013.

We urge the MPO not to get caught up in some pie-in-the-sky downtown plan. Much of how downtown Bismarck will play out has already been determined by its evolving uses.

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What comes now should be practical solutions to a series of unresolved issues. And they need to be resolved with lots of discussion from the general public and not just from the stakeholders.

Eleven companies have indicated they want this work; the MPO should be picky in making a choice.

The study needs to give the city a workable plan for downtown and not bureaucratic fluff. And against all odds, it should not be used as a lever to increase property taxes.

Bismarck’s downtown has become a real asset to the city.

It benefits people who live throughout the community, and not just in the city center.

City officials need to get to work — sooner rather than later — resolving the important issues affecting Bismarck’s downtown.

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