Diverse group makes final play for reality TV show to include Little Falls
By Terry Lehrke, News Editor
When Kris VonBerge got a phone call from the Town 180 producer Wednesday, she quickly started making phone calls.
The producer’s request? To gather a diverse group of people from the community and videotape a round-robin discussion on how they would reinvent Little Falls, with the purpose to showcase the dynamics of the residents. Sixteen were invited, 16 accepted and 16 showed up.
VonBerge said the producer told her that the network NBC is the most likely pick up the show. In addition, instead of one city with two teams being portrayed, the focus would be on two cities — each with one team working toward goals.
The winning city wouldn’t get a community makeover and what was initially thought to be a $100,000 prize. However, the producer told VonBerge Wednesday the cash amount was much, much more, but wouldn’t say how much more.
Little Falls is in the top three — Thursday’s video, send to the producers Friday — could be the deciding factor.
Those invited included Little Falls Mayor Cathy VanRisseghem, Council Member at Large Brian-Paul Crowder, Council Member Jeremy Hanfler, Bob Reinitz, Steve VanSlooten, Gary Block, Cassie Baum, Kenisha Schaffer, Kathy Whittington, Robin Hensel, Jody Scott-Olson, Kim Bzdok, Jill Moore, Ray Dodin and Gabrielle and David Meyer.
While they didn’t all agree on how to reinvent Little Falls, they all had ideas.
VanRisseghem said the meeting was not about individuals’ agendas in life, but about how to make Little Falls better.
Reinitz, a proponent of the Camp Ripley State Veterans Trail (a bike and multi-modal trail that would come through Little Falls), said Little Falls didn’t exist to the Minnesota Legislature and exposure on Town 180 “is a way to get put on the map.”
VanSlooten, not a proponent of a bike trail said, “If NBC wants to reduce its audience to 10 people, let’s talk about a bike trail.”
As for a $100,000 prize, VanSlooten said, “We need serious cash if we want to revitalize more than my house.”
Attitudes in the city need revitalizing, David Meyer said, with Crowder adding pride in the community and its history were items to capitalize on.
Dodin came to the city in 2009 from Chicago. He felt the city had a great location on two highways — the need was to bring people to Little Falls.
Whether the city was unique enough to bring people in was a question Scott-Olson had. So too, she asked, once people were in the city, what was available for them to do. She felt the Mississippi, a natural resource of the city should be highlighted (canoes, paddle boats), as well as activities involving the agricultural community.
Reinitz suggested a coffee shop overlooking the river. Bzdok agreed outdoor seating was needed.
Schaffer said there was nothing for children to do in town during the winter, like a winter park. And in the summer, she remembers going to the city beach which featured a bathroom and concession stand.
Dodin, who said Little Falls is beautiful, said an indoor facility was needed for kids during the winter months, so residents didn’t have to drive to Brainerd or St. Cloud for activities.
Whittington, a resident for just four years, said she’s heard over and over, “You should have seen Little Falls long ago … it used to be alive.”
David and Gabrielle Meyer pointed to the problem of young people being encouraged to go to college and get out of town. They were the exceptions they said, since both are from Little Falls, are college graduates and have chosen to raise their family in the city. They are excited about Town 180.
David said Little Falls’ search for its identity must be a search for a positive identity.
Bzdok, who also grew up in Little Falls, said she never dreamed she’d come back to live — but loves the small school and the ability to get around without hassle.
VanSlooten brought the focus back to the river; Gabrielle Meyer said for the first time in history the city didn’t rely on the river — “But we should,” she said, citing it as a part of Little Falls’ history and a draw for visitors.
“Is that what we want? A tourist town?” asked Hanfler, who said the city needed more industry to generate jobs for the unemployed.
Diversity in cities to the Little Falls’ south and west needed to be tapped, Hensel said. She also suggested alternative purposes for Camp Ripley be sought and the need for answers for people losing their homes.
Whittington, who has lived in places all over the world, said she was impressed that so many people are doing so many things in Little Falls.
Moore at the Great River Arts Center pointed to the volunteers who have helped with the remodeling and the activity they’re working to revive.
Some very positive things were brought up, said Block. “We need to make it relevant for young people … need to build on that.”
“This group came together and listened to each other today, a huge goal,” said VonBerge. “They listened to each other’s ideas, had opinions, went back and forth on a dozen really great topics.”
While the videotaped session was to take 30 minutes, it lasted nearly an hour. The final consensus, “Town 180: We want you here!”
“And bring the money,” said VanSlooten.