Foundation holds community listening sessions

At the Monday evening meeting of the Minot Park Board, Ken Kitzman and Meghan Lautenschlager from Minot Area Community Foundation presented their findings from a community listening session held to gather ideas from people around the community about what direction the future of the city’s facilities should go.

“We took a serious look at ourself and how we fit into the community,” said Kitzman, the foundation’s president.

“During the flood we did the recovery fund,” which supported relief and restoration projects throughout the greater Minot area. Transitioning out of that, Kitzman said the foundation board found that the traditional grant process was unsuitable for a post-flood, Bakken-booming Minot. “There were not many innovative grants,” he recalled, “just business as usual.”

He had to ask, “How can we do this better?”

A large measure of the problems they were encountering was due to demographic shifting caused by the younger, out-of-state families moving to the area. The old understanding of what Minoters need or want would not do, and if these newer residents were to be expected to establish themselves in the area their thoughts would have to be considered as well. “We need to be engaged; proactive rather than reactive,” Kitzman said.

To that end, the foundation looked to a community listening program successfully done by the city of Richmond, Calif., a city of 100,000 on the eastern end of the San Francisco metropolitan area. After making some calls and getting some advice, the MACF selected nine area businesses from which to poll staff members.

The listening sessions looked at 93 participants: 60 of whom were from North Dakota, 49 being women, 60 being parents, and 45 under the age of 35. “We asked for permission to record every session,” Kitzman explained, with the foundation board dissecting the results afterward.

“Some of it was venting,” he said, various complaints about service quality and different amenities. But after the initial tirades would subside, questioners led the discussions toward what participants liked and wanted to see in the community. Among Minot’s strengths were its low crime rate, its public schools, robust economic situation, available outdoor activities, and the friendly, small-town sort of atmosphere.

Among fairly common suggestions for improvement, “a couple things surprised us. Folks from out of town really seemed to dwell on recycling,” said Kitzman, with suggestions for more collection venues, or possibly a curbside pickup service. “The other one was downtown activities,” things like street festivals, wine walks, seasonal festivals and the like.

“There’s always room for improvement.”

Some of the suggestions given are already in the works, such as a new marketing developer position created by the city and various departmental rebrandings to make Minot seem more visitable. Many could be categorized as quality-of-life amenities smaller projects and additions to the existing public park system like a band shell at Oak Park, additional green space, updated lighting for facilities, or an obstacle course for the “bark park.” Other recommendations would be reliant on private investment, things like “cheap seats” theaters, go kart courses, more microbreweries and cultural eateries.

“For a community our size, quite frankly, we should have those things,” Kitzman stated, suggesting that the field is fairly open for such investment opportunities. As a community development foundation, “we should be investing in these kind of projects.”

One project Kitzman is particularly enthusiastic for is a proposed children’s museum, which he thinks would be a unique educational tool. “It’d be a gem for our community,” he said of it. While the museum has only recently entered the conceptual stage, already the question of where to site it is being considered. He thinks the Roosevelt Park Zoo might make a fine location, calling it “one of the unique things within the community.”

Although no details have been worked out, if sited there Kitzman hopes it might enable the zoo to remain open year-round. “It might be a good fit, it might be a good location.”

The results of the foundation’s findings have so far been presented to the city’s park and commercial boards, “and of course our board. It’s a good focus for who we are,” he said, adding that “I think we will see changes.”