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Erik Burgess, Published January 09 2014

Mayors promote arts at annual 'State of the Cities' event

FARGO – The mayors of Fargo, Moorhead, West Fargo and Dilworth all agree: cultivating the arts is a crucial piece in growing the metro area.

“A world without art is one which I would not want to participate in,” Dilworth Mayor Chad Olson said this morning at the annual “State of the Cities” event.

The four mayors discussed arts, flood protection, attracting people to the region, and the overall growth of the metro during the event, which was hosted in Fargo by The Chamber.

With Fargo commissioners setting up a public arts task force on Monday, the other three mayors chimed in that they, too, think arts are important.

West Fargo Mayor Rich Mattern said he was “anxious” to see the results of the Fargo task force, which will take inventory of what the city has in terms of public art and will develop an arts plan for the city.

The task force has yet to be formed, but will likely include commissioners, city staff and community arts members.

“Communities can grow, but in order to thrive, you have to have the arts,” Mattern said.

Moorhead leaders have been hoping to anchor a rebirth of its downtown on arts and entertainment, and Mayor Del Rae Williams repeated that desire this morning.

On the topic of growth, Mattern said West Fargo has been heavily focused on south of Interstate 94, and that Veterans Boulevard has long been the “hot spot” for development.

“I think now is the time that we start looking at the inner core of the city,” he said, adding that he’d like to focus on promoting infill along Main Avenue and Sheyenne Street.

The audience of chamber members participated in the event, using cell phones to respond to a live poll asking what the most important issue affecting the greater metro is.

Fifty-eight percent said comprehensive flood protection, while 18 percent said workforce. Twelve percent said lower taxes, seven percent said arts and entertainment and four percent said housing.

All four mayors showed support for finding a comprehensive flood plan, with every mayor but Williams outright stating support for the proposed Fargo-Moorhead flood diversion project.

“The diversion needs to be built and it needs to start soon,” Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker said.

With the Sheyenne River diversion already in place, Mattern said West Fargo should serve as “a good model” for how well a diversion can work.

Williams said she was “very proud” of the flood protection Moorhead has already completed and said she expects to finish that work this year, with help from the state.

Williams also said she’s ready to work with Fargo on its flood protection.

“Because, of course, Fargo is very important to Moorhead,” she said.

The mayors also discussed how to draw people to the region and keep them here, despite the cold winter weather and a very low 2.6 percent unemployment rate, a figure cited by Chamber President and CEO Craig Whitney.

Mattern said residents need to be more positive, saying he would slap the next person that told him that “cold weather keeps the riff-raff out.”

“Why not say that cold weather is for lovers?” Mattern asked, eliciting an uproar of laughter. “… Sometimes we think too negatively about what’s going on around us.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518