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No naysayers: Community group wants Jamestown to be a better place

Becky Thatcher-Keller, left, Jamestown Area Chamber of Commerce executive director, and Lynn Lambrecht, Jamestown Downtown Association president, talk about the goals of a community group that is working to make Jamestown a place of positive growth. Chris Olson / The Sun

In April a group of 18 people ranging from seniors in high school to young professionals in Jamestown gathered at the University of Jamestown to provide answers to questions from a community group interested in making Jamestown a better place.

Behind that community group are individuals who want to help Jamestown grow.

Becky Thatcher-Keller, Jamestown Area Chamber of Commerce executive director, Lynn Lambrecht, president of the Jamestown Downtown Association, and Tena Lawrence, University of Jamestown senior vice president for public relations and marketing, are members of the community group who recently discussed the group’s work.

Thatcher-Keller said the group got started after Gov. Doug Burgum visited Jamestown last year as part of his Main Street Initiative tour. She said Burgum challenged people who were invited to hear him speak to do a grassroots effort to help the community grow.

“We identified the pillars of his (Burgum’s) program and a few of us got together and started talking about what we could do around here,” she said.

Thatcher-Keller said that core group of people invited about 30 people in the community from groups including the chamber, city of Jamestown, Jamestown/Stutsman Development Corp. and Jamestown Tourism, among others, to form this community group. She said the group registered Jamestown as a Main Street Initiative Community.

Lawrence said the group has only met formally twice in the last five or six months and doesn’t yet have a name. Connie Ova, the CEO of the JSDC, is reviewing the individual groups’ strategic plans to see if there are some priorities the community group can set for itself.

Thatcher-Keller said the group helped city officials apply for Opportunity Zone status, which the state has granted. She said the federal government still has to approve the state’s list of Opportunity Zone projects, but if that status is granted the designation will help with any future projects in Jamestown. The Opportunity Zone program was part of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Job Act approved by Congress and signed by the president. The program offers a deferment or exemption for capital gains taxes if the profits of a sale are invested in an approved Opportunity Zone.

Lambrecht said the people involved in this community group have different things in common, but they all have the drive to see things change and improve for Jamestown.

“We’re looking for proactive growth,” she said. “We’re not looking to just get one project done, we want people who can look 10 to 20 years from now and see what our needs will be. If something like this had been going on in the 1970s, maybe this town would be in a different position.”

Thatcher-Keller said the group is not interested in having people whose first reaction to a challenge is to see only the negative.

“We want people who are engaged and we want to have an honest discussion,” she said. “But we don’t want people who right away put up the roadblocks.”

Lawrence said the community group is a grassroots organization and hopes the Jamestown community will embrace what the group is trying to achieve.

“There will be more community meetings,” she said. “We want suggestions to make Jamestown better and we will be transparent in achieving that goal.”