Brian Lunde driven to make a difference in Jamestown

Mar. 30—JAMESTOWN — Dec. 9, 2005, was a significant date for Jamestown. A fire destroyed the Orlady building in downtown Jamestown on First Avenue where the Hansen Arts Park is now located.

That same evening, Brian Lunde and his wife, Barbara, had flown into Jamestown Regional Airport and drove to the fire scene. Near the scene, they also drove by the Zappas building that is now the Buffalo Grill, which is located on the corner of First Avenue South and First Street East. The Zappas building had been vacant for years.

"'The pigeons owned it, we said,'" Brian Lunde said. "We did kind of a typical, 'Why doesn't somebody do something to fix our downtown?'"

The fire prompted the Lundes to renovate the historic Zappas building, which is now Buffalo Grill. That led to renovating two other buildings in downtown Jamestown — Davoni's and the building to the west of Blue Star Dry Cleaning and Beyond on First Avenue West.

"That's what started this passion to get in, come back, see if we couldn't be a catalyst to jumpstart our downtown," Lunde said. "We kind of viewed ourselves as a cog in the wheel of progress here."

Lunde is gracious and a loyal citizen of Jamestown, said Connie Ova, former CEO of the Jamestown/Stutsman Development Corp.

"If he hadn't taken the bull by the horns, and worked with JSDC on renovating that, I think there are a lot of things that are in downtown Jamestown that never would have happened," she said.

The Lundes graduated from Jamestown High School in 1972. Brian Lunde graduated from the University of South Florida with a bachelor's degrees in mass communications and political science.

Lunde has over 40 years of experience in campaign management and grassroots organizing experience at the national, state and local levels.

Lunde began his political career in 1976 as a national field director for the Jimmy Carter presidential campaign. He has served as an executive director of the Democratic National Committee and as campaign manager of the presidential bid of Illinois Sen. Paul Simon.

He also served as a national co-chair of Democrats for Bush in 2000 and 2004 before serving on the Bush Transition Advisory Committee.

Lunde has taught seminars on campaign management and political communications for the Washington Center for Politics and Journalism.

Lunde is a partner in Advocates Inc., a public affairs and issue advocacy firm in Washington, D.C., but he said he is trying to move more into a council role there.

Lunde said he has always been driven to make a difference. He remembers watching political conventions when he was 14 years old, enamored that "good" men and women were running for office and trying to make a difference.

Lunde said he and his wife had spent many years in the Washington, D.C., area and it was time to come back to Jamestown.

"You are your zip code where you grew up," he said. "It pulls at you. It tugs at you. ... You may have a career in Washington, D.C., but what do you love? I love wide open spaces."

It always bothered the Lundes that Jamestown's population has been the same as it was 60 years ago.

"If you are going to break 50 years of history being at 15,000 people, you've got to do something completely different because otherwise you are just treading," Lunde said.

Lunde said Jamestown cannot stay stagnant.

"I may be wrong about this but you really do grow or die," he said.

Lunde referenced Culpeper, Virginia, as an example, which has grown in population from about 8,600 people in 1990 to over 20,000 in 2020. He said Culpeper is similar to Jamestown because it is positioned between three larger cities — Washington, D.C.; Charlottesville, Virginia; and Fredericksburg, Virginia.

"They fixed their downtown and now it's like a postcard," he said. "It looks like a Virginia countryside postcard town."

He said Culpeper's population growth was sparked in part because of downtown revitalization.

Lunde said Jamestown needed a flagship restaurant downtown so other businesses would fill the other buildings.

"It's the first reason you get people to come downtown," he said, referring to the need for downtown restaurants.

A city needs to have a viable and attractive downtown to inject a growth in population, Lunde said.

"You can't have people drive downtown with half of your buildings empty," he said.

He said Jamestown went through a period where businesses located near the Interstate 94 exit in the southwest area. He said that would just make Jamestown a pit stop but wouldn't cause the city to grow.

"You've got to come back to your roots and get the downtown fixed," he said.

Lunde turned the longtime vacant Zappas building into what became Buffalo City Grille and four condominiums. Because the building had been vacant for many years, he said there were talks about demolishing it.

He said the historic building needed to be saved because it's destructive to the community to tear it down.

"You are going to clean out your downtown and you will have nothing to use as a core," Lunde said.

Lunde said the buildings that currently house the Corner Bar and Jerry's Furniture were flagship buildings when he was growing up.

"You have to get back to that viability it once had," Lunde said. "That's the connection to the past that you cannot skip over your downtown and lose it."

Once the Lundes purchased the Zappas building, they decided that it needed to be used as a cornerstone business to draw people to downtown Jamestown. Lunde said Jamestown was in need of a restaurant for the business community that could be used for meetings and a gathering place.

"We really didn't have our flagship where we said Jamestown needs a place where if you close your eyes, you could be in Chicago, Minneapolis, Seattle," he said. "Walking in here, you don't know where you are at."

He said a cornerstone restaurant is a catalyst to get other businesses to locate in the downtown area. He said downtown restaurants are usually independent restaurants.

"You are going to have to get independent uniqueness," he said.

He said the Buffalo Grill building was renovated as a private-public partnership. In 2006, Lunde received a loan of $450,000 and a $350,000 grant in city sales tax money from the Jamestown/Stutsman Development Corp., The Jamestown Sun reported.

At the time, Ova said renovating the Zappas building could be a catalyst for downtown development.

Because of the help he received from the JSDC, Lunde said he renovated two other historic buildings in downtown Jamestown.

"They contributed enough that I felt we owed them to do more after this was all done," he said.

After a cornerstone restaurant was established, other businesses located in Jamestown. Downtown Jamestown now includes Babb's Coffee House, Jonny B's Brickhouse, Corner Bar and Davoni's among others. The Hansen Arts Park has also been established in the area where the Orlady building once stood.

"When you get a core of what brings people downtown, then all of a sudden you have people ... rehabilitate or renovate a building," Lunde said. "All of a sudden you have reinvented your downtown which is the core, I think, of any growth strategy."

If he hadn't worked with JSDC on renovating the project, Ova said there might be a lot of projects in downtown Jamestown that never would have happened.

Lunde said Jamestown is doing great but it's still in the incremental model.

"It starts incrementally at first," he said. "You grow incrementally for a while but you do fix your downtown."

Lunde said the Jamestown area has solid core industries such as ag and energy for organic growth.

"You are always going to have that," he said. "Then what plays do you make off of that?"

He said if Jamestown wants to become a destination city, it usually happens in the tourism industry.

"How do you become a destination that gets you into rapid growth," he said.

Lunde is heavily involved in the Bison World project. The project started as a way to improve the Frontier Village area.

He said Bison World is the "outside-the-box" thinking that could trigger a large retail industry based on all the new people coming to Jamestown during a seven-month period.

"The beauty of it is you get new residents out of something like that, new long-term residents, but you also get economic activity off of people who spend their money and leave," he said. "It's a double whammy. You get the new growth, more housing, more people but you also get this added benefit of people spending their money and leaving."

Lunde said the Bison World project wouldn't even be thought of if there wasn't vacant state land and 8.8 million people who drive by Jamestown on Interstate 94.

"It allows us to think about geometric growth, a whole new industry," he said. "How do we get people to spend their money and leave, which is the tourism industry?"

Lunde said Jamestown is also branded as the Buffalo City and that can be used to leverage the brand of the city.

"That's what Bison World is all about," he said. " ... If you are the Buffalo City and you got Bison World, it all starts to tie historically together."