Lynn Lambrecht passionate about downtown revitalization

Mar. 31—JAMESTOWN — Downtown Jamestown may have filled up in recent years, but if Lynn Lambrecht had her wish, some of the historic buildings that once were there would still be around to fill.

"I'm a history buff and I love old buildings, so if there was one thing that I could do I would go back in time in the '70s and stop the urban renewal program," she says, laughing. "If I had my dream ... we would still have the opera house, we would still have quite a few of the older buildings that we could be capitalizing on right now and we can't."

But the president of the Jamestown Downtown Association is still happy with how far the downtown has come and says it's always evolving.

"I feel like we have accomplished a lot of things," she said. "... if you were to compare what the downtown looked like in the late '90s, early 2000s versus what it is now, it's easy to forget, like, for example, the Straus building used to have a big old pigeon facade thing on the front of it. But at the same time, there's always going to be a project. There's always going to be an improvement that we can make. The bumpouts, the road diet, those are all improvements in my opinion that helped make the downtown feel more welcoming, more pedestrian friendly. But there's still other things that we can do."

A native of Jamestown, Lambrecht earned a business administration degree from North Dakota State University before launching her career in other states, spending time in Wyoming and Oregon.

"I was in retail management to begin with, worked for Kmart and they moved me around for a while, and then I came back (to Jamestown) and took a job at White Drug," she said. "... I always say that I moved away long enough to know that I wanted to come back especially when it came to raise kids ..."

Lambrecht has three daughters, Lara, Erika and Keira.

Lambrecht said when she began working at White Drug in downtown Jamestown, she learned about the history of downtown, which would evolve into a "passion" for downtown revitalization.

Lambrecht was the assistant manager for White Drug, working there for six years until 1997 when she moved upstairs — literally — in the same building to work for Robert Ingstad Broadcasting Inc. She stayed with the company, now i3G Media, where she is the general manager and oversees six staff. There are five radio stations run out of the Jamestown office, she said: Big Dog Country, Q101, Ted FM, KRVX The Raven and Jamestown 107.1. There is also a Carrington station, KDAK, and the website newsdakota.com.

Lambrecht didn't plan to go into sales work, which happened through her involvement with what is now known as the Jamestown Downtown Association.

"I started meeting other business owners and learning more about their businesses and so it just kind of evolved into a, I know them so I could probably help them with their marketing with their business ... ," she said.

Lambrecht said the downtown association at that time was mainly concerned with retail promotions such as Crazy Days and opening hours for Christmas shopping.

"We kind of took that little association and turned it into something bigger," she said, into a development and revitalization organization. "We got involved in the national Main Street program. We started looking into things like the Renaissance Zone, we started looking into development programs for downtown."

Lambrecht noted that in the late 1990s and early 2000s, there were a lot of empty buildings downtown.

"We had the Zappas building that had been empty for 25 years before that got filled with a restaurant (Buffalo Grill) and stuff," she said. Other empty buildings included the former Fair Store (Corner Bar) and part of the Maple Mall.

"We knew that we needed to do something to encourage people to locate their businesses downtown and put those buildings to use," she said.

Monica Hieb, vice president of the Jamestown Downtown Association who has worked with Lambrecht for at least eight years, says Lambrecht's knowledge of the downtown's historic buildings is invaluable.

"I think she's been through every building downtown and knows who had it," Hieb said. " She knows its history, she knows exactly what was there, when it started."

Nancy Miller, who is the JDA secretary and has served for almost 16 years on the board, agrees.

"She's just very passionate about downtown and Jamestown as a whole," she said.

The Jamestown Downtown Association has more than 100 members, Lambrecht said.

"Our investors in the downtown are from all over the city," she said. "They don't have to be a downtown core business to want to see their downtown revitalized. But at the same time, that's where we concentrate our efforts, is on that downtown core area, that First Avenue core."

JDA is a nonprofit organization whose purpose is to "provide service, support, leadership, and advocacy for the vitalization of downtown," according to its website,

jamestowndowntown.org

.

"There's a lot of positive things happening in downtown and then we just keep on trying to focus on things that help the entire downtown area," Lambrecht said of JDA. "We still have a couple of promotions that we do — the Rods and Hogs and the Holiday Dazzle Parade and stuff that help to draw people downtown and put a focus on our downtown. And we just got done buying new Christmas decorations which seemed to be very well received."

During the summer, JDA places 50 flower baskets on the street poles downtown.

"Anything that we can do as a group to enhance the downtown area and make it more inviting for people to not just come and visit but then also to locate their businesses downtown, we're going to try and do that," she said.

Don't be surprised to find Lambrecht and daughter Keira watering those baskets of flowers twice a week all summer. She says her husband, Wade, set up one of their own trucks with a donated water tank for the job. Lambrecht says when she is watering those flowers up and down First Avenue, she likes to take in the look of the downtown.

"I've had people ask me, 'What is your stake in this,' or 'What do you get out of it (the downtown work)' ... and honestly, it's just that feeling of pride," she said.

Hieb says Lambrecht "always puts so much on her."

"She could delegate, but I think she just feels like she doesn't want to trouble anyone, but she has ... such a pride in our downtown that she just tries to do whatever she can to make it better and bring attention and make it look nice," Hieb said. "She organizes us in the spring to go and pick up garbage ... She weeds flower beds. I think people think that all the plants that were planted (downtown) when the road diet was completed, that the city takes care of those. They do not. That is the downtown association. That's Lynn. ... She does that all on her own."

When Lambrecht considers where the downtown has been and where it is now, she thinks it's become stronger.

"My philosophy has always been you take it brick by brick, building by building," she said. "Because every building is important and every business is important, and there's always going to be that one building that we still have to work on. So for example, we've come a long way as far filling some of those downtown core buildings, but we still have the Elks, the former Elks building that I would love to see (revitalized) and I'm working on a couple of people on that right now."

She said the downtown is always evolving with buildings whether a business moves in or closes, but she's encouraged by some of the development that's occurred.

"Eagle Flats is an absolute wonderful addition to downtown," she said. "We encouraged that and supported that 100 percent, so anytime we can see some of those existing infrastructures built back up again so that they're good for the city and good for the community, we obviously promote the revitalization effort and the Renaissance Zone effort over and over again."

The Renaissance Zone program works to revitalize communities in the state and encourages development through tax incentives, according to the North Dakota Department of Commerce's website. Jamestown participates in the program.

"The state is going to allow towns to expand it and so that is something else that we're involved in, working with all of the different entities," Lambrecht said. "... The Renaissance Zone has been a good tool. The hard part is just educating everybody that it's there and to use it."

She noted the most recent project here was with Tim Perkins and the Premium Property Management building.

"That is a wonderful use of not just the Renaissance Zone but mixed use ...," Lambrecht said. "He has a beautiful apartment on the upper level and then his service business downstairs. That's exactly what we would like to see is more projects like that."

Lambrecht said while most downtown buildings are filled, there are also underutilized buildings and in her wish list, she'd like to see more apartments developed upstairs in them although she understands there are challenges with that as well.

"Probably 50 percent of our second stories are not utilized right now," she said.

She said she's also encouraged to see some of the downtown boutique shops and her wishlist would include more opening, adding "what's realistic and what can be done is two things sometimes."

The downtown association doesn't recruit businesses to fill empty buildings, she noted, but acts more like a "matchmaker," helping a business connect with the owner of a building, for example, or putting information on available retail space in its newsletter.

"We don't necessarily go out there and recruit chain businesses and things like that," she added. "We don't have the population for that. The moms and pops, the incubator businesses, the boutique shops and things seem to be a better fit for some of our spaces downtown."

She says one of the most "beautiful sites in a downtown" is big dumpsters outside of a building, which means changes and improvements are being made to it.

"The Wooly, just seeing that building come back to life right now is amazingly satisfying, the improvements that have been made in the former Schubert's building again," Lambrecht said. "And so those are the changes that we like to see. And if we can find a way to connect someone who wants to develop a building or someone who wants to develop a business with the people that are ready to sell that building or have an empty space available, that's what we want to do."

She cited the current Arts Center project to expand into the former Wonder Bar building as well and noted the Hansen Arts Park provides a crucial piece to the downtown.

"One of the things that you will always see when you're talking to anybody that specializes in downtown revitalization is that the community needs a place to gather," Lambrecht said. "They need a space that they feel safe, that they can gather for events and just have a space for community. And that's why almost every successful downtown will have some kind of a courtyard or a park in the middle of their downtown or ... just be a space like the Arts Park."

Hieb says Lambrecht's love for the downtown is evident in her work.

"It's almost like those buildings are hers," Hieb said. "... Like they're family to her, she's got to take care of them. I don't know where even Jamestown would be without that lady. She sure cares. I think people thought when we lost Charlie Kourajian (the late former mayor and community advocate) that where would things go, but it's almost like Lynn didn't skip a beat. She ... kept going to make sure that nothing was lost."