Tribune editorial: Jury still out on governor’s key initiative

Tribune editorial: Jury still out on governor’s key initiative

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North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum talks about his Main Street Initiative as the keynote speaker Tuesday for the opening day of the Main Street Summit held at the Bismarck Event Center.

Gov. Doug Burgum will wrap up a three-day summit today on his Main Street Initiative. The program has been one of the mainstays of his administration.

The initiative focuses on workforce development, efficient infrastructure and “healthy, vibrant communities” to bring new life to mainly rural and small towns. Those are excellent goals, but the Tribune editorial board isn’t sure everyone grasps what the governor’s attempting to achieve.

At the summit, leaders from Valley City, Bottineau, Garrison, Grand Forks and Beach are touting what they have accomplished under the program. Some of the projects may seem modest, but that’s OK.

Valley City Mayor Dave Carlsrud and Burgum cited the visual appeal added to recent projects in Valley City such as artful designs in the Sheyenne River floodwall and new street lamps. The Tribune supports even small efforts to make a community more appealing.

That’s one goal of the initiative, to draw more visitors and new residents. Carlsrud described it as adding “eye candy and then we have to have people who are welcoming.”

Another focus of the initiative remains the core of communities or downtowns. When Sanford Health recently announced plans for a heart hospital in downtown Bismarck, it said its decision to build downtown was directly related to the Main Street Initiative. The project is a lot more than eye candy. It will cost millions, take years to complete and result in more staff and make Bismarck a destination for patients in three states.

Hurdles remain for the hospital project, but the benefits for Sanford and the community point to it getting completed.

Bismarck knows not all projects succeed. The proposed FiveSouth development that involved apartments, a hotel, shops and parking structures didn’t get off the ground.

Not all the projects under the initiative will be as massive as the hospital. Bottineau has stressed family friendly events and Lake Metigoshe recreation. Beach hired a strategic planning consultant who identified areas that match the Main Street Initiative principles.

Burgum deserves credit for promoting the initiative. The governor’s office has made 57 visits to communities across the state, including Bismarck and Mandan, to explain and promote the initiative.

It’s not a program that’s going to show a ton of results in three years. It’s going to take time for communities to adopt the initiative and make plans. The Tribune has been a strong supporter of downtowns, but we also feel residents should have the option of staying in the core of the community or expanding to the outskirts.

Burgum argues that “sprawl” adds to a city’s infrastructure costs and in the long run is more expensive for residents. He favors infill projects when possible.

The Democratic-NPL Party has voiced skepticism about the initiative’s results, but the Tribune believes it’s too early to judge the initiative’s performance. It remains to be seen if Burgum wins another term to continue the initiative.

The outcomes will depend on the performance of communities and businesses that decide to embrace the initiative. If they are committed to success, the initiative should reap benefits for those involved.

There may not be a lot of big projects like the heart hospital, but a few big ones scattered among the smaller initiatives could be a boon for the state.

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