Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Things will be great when you're downtown...

I was very excited to watch a WDAZ report the other night that talked about various plans to bring upscale housing to downtown Grand Forks. Of course, you should already be aware of the Elite Brownstones that will soon be constructed on the current Flood Memorial Park/Herald parking lot site. We have also heard quite a bit about the ongoing construction that is turning the old Metropolitan Opera House into the Opera House Lofts (very nice website, by the way). Now come reports of a new buyer for the old St. John's Block. The lower level is going to be turned into "gallery space" and the upper floors into either high-end apartments or condos. To top that all of, the WDAZ report said that the old Grand Forks Community Center (west of Central High School) has been purchased by a California developer and will be turned into upscale housing (hopefully this happens this time...this building has exchanged hands many times over the last few years and developer's plans have never become reality). Even more interesting, the report also showed a picture of the former Griffith's Department Store building and said simply that "this building" (didn't the reporter know what the of the more prominent downtown...had been in its former life?) has also or will soon be sold to a new owner and will become upscale housing.

For a downtown that has seen very little development for the last few years, all of these plans and projects are nothing short of incredible. I always knew that downtown would be turning the tide at some point. It has looked rough for years now, but I think that we are finally at a point where things are going to start getting better fast. In the next year, we should have multiple new upscale apartments and condos being occupied by those likely willing to spend a portion of their incomes in shops and restaurants in the downtown area. As reported earlier, we will also soon be having a new upscale restaurant/bar (The Toasted Frog...I was isn't an Irish pub...the actual format sounds much better) and a new artisian bakery. The old Opera House is getting a new restaurant on the ground floor, but I am not yet aware of just what the restuarant will be. I would be shocked if some more of those empty storefronts downtown won't also be getting some other new tenants as well.

Lonnie Laffen (a prominent local architect who is working on downtown housing projects) seemed very excited about the prospects for downtown, when he was interviewed for the WDAZ report. Downtown Fargo has been getting a new energy lately and, hopefully, we will be experiencing the same thing here in Grand Forks during this coming year. 2006 is going to be a very exciting year.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

New hospital being built on south side of Grand Forks?

A couple weeks back, WDAZ had a report about all the construction currently going on near the Stadter Psychiatric Center on the south side of Grand Forks. They reported that there are rumours that one of the large new buildings being constructed is a brand new full-service hospital. I hadn't been by the construction for a month or two, but I drove by there late this afternoon. After seeing the new development first hand, I would be very suprised if there isn't going to be a new hospital opening up in 2006.

One of the new buildings is HUGE...way too big for any kind of psychiatric clinic addition...too big for any kind of a clinic, in my opinion. It would be monumental news if we are really getting a second hospital in Grand Forks. First, it would mean the end of Altru Health System's monopoly as the only full-service healthcare provider in the city. Second, a new hospital campus could be a catalyst for other developments much like United Hospital (now Altru) was back in the 1970s. Third, and most interesting, how is it that a new hospital is probably going to be opening in town in the next few months, but I haven't come across one classified ad for doctors/nurses/etc. to run such a facility? Is a mass exodus from Altru in the works?

Another interesting bit of news on the healthcare front is the fact that Altru is in the process of selling $40 million in bonds for additions and renovations to their facilities. It seems like the face of healthcare in Grand Forks will be changing in 2006. It will be interesting to watch.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Dirty dining?

The Grand Forks Public Health Department has come out with their list of restaurant inspection scores again. There weren't too many suprising scores to me. Of course, the local Chinese cuisine restaurants are, as always, among the lowest scoring...but they're so yummy anyways! One establishment that did score quite low (84) was the Starbucks on Washington Street. What's up with that? They only serve coffee and a brownie now and then. What are they doing that made them earn such a low score? It has always seemed fairly neat and tidy in there to me.

Another tidbit that interested me. Last year, there were 130 "public kitchens" in town...this year there are 149. I know of several restaurants coming in over the next year so this number will continue to grow. To me, it's just another sign that we are growing all the time.

Monday, December 12, 2005

The Bingo Palace: A great place for your child's next birthday party!

The Bingo Palace has never struck me as being a very classy joint even if it IS one of the top ten bingo halls in North America...who keeps track of the top ten bingo halls anyways? However, they have truly sunk to their new low: going after the kiddy market. This is no joke. The Bingo Palace is not only welcoming children in its doors to sit down and play a few is actually encouraging it and directly targeting children in new advertising. Ten year olds being encouraged to gamble...what's wrong with this picture?

The Bingo Palace has been complaining about the city's new smoking ordinance ever since it went into effect this past summer. They claim that former patrons are so upset about the fact that they can no longer sit in the Palace playing bingo all day and smoking like the Simplot smokestack out on Gateway Drive that these fine folks are now just going directly to the bars where they can smoke all they want and buy the pull tabs there that they used to buy at the Palace. This has NDAD (North Dakota Association for the Disabled), which gets some of the profits from the Palace's now faltering operations, so upset they they and the Palace owners have been trying to think of any way they can to bring the money and patrons rolling back in. They have tried to simply ignore the city's smoking ban...this led to the city police actually having to come to the Palace and remove the ashtrays. They have also tried (and failed) to turn the "family-friendly" atmosphere of the Palace (gambling and pull tabs...kinda like a Chucky Cheese!) into a bar. That way they could bring back the smoking, the bingoaholics, and the profts.

Since these previous attempts have failed, the Palace and NDAD have turned to a new scheme. Gambling for Kids!!! That's right, the Palace is already airing television ads that actually say that bingo is a great activity for the kids. If you go with your grandparents, you can even get a free bingo marker (or whatever they are called)! Through some loop-hole in the state law, not only are kids welcome to sit with their mom as she spends the day gambling...they are now being encouraged to join in the action and gamble away their allowance! What a great way to teach the kids about legit ways of earning money, huh?

So, the next time NDAD whines about not receiving as much money for their operations, think about one of the ways that they are making that money. That's right, those kids walking down the street might be heading for a round of bingo at the Palace! WHOOPEE!

-Bismarck Tribune article on ten year olds gambling

Saturday, December 10, 2005

The Toasted Frog

Something called "The Toasted Frog" is going to be taking over the old Lola's restaurant location at 124 North Third Street in downtown Grand Forks. The new business is a restaurant/bar. Something about the name "The Toated Frog" sounds vaguely like an Irish pub. That would be a good addition to the downtown scene.

On a side note, the adjacent Joe DiMaggio's restaurant is for sale (not the building, just the business). This restaurant started out with a bang when it opened after the flood, but has struggled for the last few years. It has already changed hands once since opening and it looks like it will do the same again. It would be nice to see the space redone and turned into another restaurant format. In my opinion, when Joe DiMaggio's first opened it seemed to be much more family-friendly than the establishment it has become.

Friday, November 11, 2005

New bakery coming to downtown GF

Dakota Harvest Bakers is a new bakery that should be opening at 6 South Third Street in downtown Grand Forks sometime this coming spring. They are currently applying for a renaissance grant. The city paperwork describes it as an "artisan bakery and cafe." Sounds like the kind of business we could use more of downtown.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Canad Inns construction could start next week

We've all heard this before (ok...dozens of times over the past several years), but construction could start on the overly delayed Canad Inns complex as early as next week. The very last bit of pre-construction business has wrapped up and the next thing that should happen is that ground should start being turned. I doubt we would see anything before next Monday, but hopefully we will see something next week...or at least get some kind of a firm date set for groundbreaking.

Keep in mind that this initial construction will not include the proposed cineplex. Leo Ledohowski is still trying to find an appropriate business to partner with for that venture.

You can't get much later in the year to start one of the biggest construction projects this state has ever seen. Oh well, contractors say that Canad should be able to work on the pilings through the winter months. I can't wait to hear that dull "Boom! Boom! Boom!" sound one day (maybe next week?) when I wake up.

I know, I know...I'll believe it when I see it too!!!

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

UPDATE: Mall food court now open!

Columbia Mall's new "Dakota Cafe" food court opened late last week. I haven't had a chance to eat at Magic Chopstix yet (the only vendor that is open as of today). I'm impressed with how professionally done the food court looks. I was a bit scared when I heard that something called "Magic Chopstix" was coming. A non-chain, no-name Chinese food court vendor sounds like the kind of place that could end up looking a little tacky and a little too homemade for a brand new food court. Thankfully, I was once again proven wrong. Magic Chopstix looks very nice and the food looks yummy. Like I said, I haven't eaten there yet, but the prices seem fairly reasonable. You get to choose rice or lo mein and then either one, two, or three main dishes. There are three different prices based on how many main dishes you want. Even though I was at the mall at around 3 P.M. there was actually a line by the place. That should hopefully be a good sign for the food court. I've had my doubts, but I really would love to see the food court and, in turn, the mall be successful.

Subway, TCBY, and Great American Cookies should be open in the food court by Thanksgiving.

By the way, why are the chopsticks "magic" anyways? Do they turn into a fork so you can actually pick up your peanut chicken instead of fumbling around for hours and dropping half of the food on the floor?

Friday, October 21, 2005

Good letter about UND neighborhood woes

Today's Herald has a letter from a Mr. Gordon Iseminger that I found particularly interesting. I watched the council meeting on Sept. 19 that Iseminger attended to urge the city council to move forward with enforcing/enacting stricter regulations in regards to rental property. He has some very good comments in this letter. Although I, myself, am a UND student, I think I can understand how sad and "dispiriting" it must be to have your neighborhood turn from Norman Rockwell into Animal House. Some students think they can behave however they want to now that they are out of "Mom and Dad's house", but their actions often speak more to their immaturity than to any shred of adulthood. It is immature to think that you and your friends can take over an entire city street or city neighborhood for seemingly endless parties. It is also immature to think that parking cars in front yards or having upwards of a dozen people living in one small house is acceptable. Likewise, it is simply pure laziness on the part of the city council that this keeps getting put off again and again.

To offending students: grow up. To the city council: wake up.


In an article in today's Fargo Forum, NDSU's President Chapman is quoted as stating that his university's economic impact on the state's economy has been $1.3 billion dollars in the past six years (aka during the Chapman administration). Sounds like a ton of money, huh? Well, just two days before Chapman's "State of NDSU" speech, UND President Kupchella delivered his very own "State of UND" speech. He stated that the economic impact of UND is roughly $1 billion...a year. Yep, NDSU has generated an impact of $1.3 billion over the past six years and UND has generated an impact of $1 billion in just the past year. You do the math. Seems to me like it is pretty clear which campus has (by far) the biggest impact on the state. North Dakota is very lucky to have UND in its borders.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

The Dullum File blog

The other evening, WDAZ mentioned that Terry Dullum has just gotten his very own blog. I've enjoyed watching The Dullum File over the years and Terry can be kind of funny. Looks like his blog is going to include interesting ancedotes from his career. An interesting bit of info: Terry grew up in the same small Red River Valley town that my mother lived in and they both went to school at the same time.

So, Terry, I look forward to reading your new blog. Maybe you'll read mine too every once in a while? I could use at least one occasional reader!

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The Uptown/Downtown issue

I, for one, was apalled when I saw the report on WDAZ about a month ago showing just what has really been going on in the Uptown/Downtown bar in downtown Grand Forks. Since when has a skanky woman crawling across the floor of a bar to recieve a tip in her mouth something that happens in Grand Forks? It's not only's just not the Grand Forks that I have known for my whole life.

I was a bit shocked when I heard on WDAZ a couple of weeks after the initial report aired that the city hadn't received ANY complaints about the matter. Somehow I didn't quite believe this. If it really was the the case, I was mad at all of us (me included) who dislike the Uptown/Downtown, but hadn't taken the time to complain to the city about the issue. I know for a fact that many people in town share my feelings on the Uptown/Downtown, but none of us had bothered to do anything with our displeasure. I guess it just shows you not only how lazy we can be, but how we also expect others to do our dirty work in politics while we sit back and rest.

I quickly fired off a lengthy and decently argued complaint email to all of the city council members and Mayor Brown. I assumed that they would at least all drop me a reply email thanking me for my comments. Guess what, the ONE AND ONLY person who bothered to respond to me was councilman Hamerlik. Either no one else thought they had the spare ten seconds needed to acknowledge my concerns, or something a little more depressing is going on. The councilmembers may act all upset about the Uptown/Downtown when they are in front of the cameras, but I feel that their displeasure with the glorified strip club (they even have poles!) is a bit more laid back and histrionic than I would prefer. I worry about two things here. First, that they (the city and councilmembers) might not have the initiative to go after the bar. Second, that they (the city and councilmembers) don't WANT to go after the bar. They might not want to "mess" with the operations of a "small business."

Whatever the reason for their lack of movement on the issue, one thing is clear to me. Everyone who is upset with the Uptown/Downtown and the negative face it puts on downtown Grand Forks NEEDS to contact the mayor and councilmembers. It seemed to be very easy for them to ignore my concerns, but I was just one voice. If we could even get a dozen complaints sent out to them, we would be making a much more effective statement. Please contact them by email, snail-mail, phone, or whatever means necessary! Click here to find out Mayor Brown's contact info or here to contact the city council members.

Monday, October 17, 2005

BREAKING NEWS: Columbia Mall has actually found food court tenants!

Well, it looks like Columbia Mall's new food court isn't going to be empty after all. The owners of the mall have been scrambling to find tenants for the hard-to-fill development. They must have lowered the asking price for rent or something, because they have just signed four vendors. They are:

Mrs. Fields Cookies
Magic Chopstix
(don't ask me...I've never heard of it either)

I'm so excited! Columbia Mall is going to have a food court AND a Macy's!!!!

I'm happy to say that my earlier post (where I expressed my lament that the food court might not have any tenants at all for quite some time) has been proven wrong! Now if we would just hear something about that new movie theater...

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Snow Days?

How is it possible that I have gone to UND since the Fall 2000 semester (don't say one finishes in four years anymore!) and there has only been one snow day during that entire period? And the sad thing: that one time wasn't even a whole was a half a day! I'm not saying that last night's blizzard really warranted shutting down the university today. However, the sudden and suprising brush with winter reminded me of just how much fun it can be walking across campus in a blizzard or, at least, near-blizzard. UND basically NEVER shuts down. Maybe that is a good thing. Perhaps it shows their devotion to teaching students no matter what is going on outside. But wouldn't it be nice to give us "kids" a day off now and then? Please??!!??!

Meet me at Columbia Mall (just not at the food court)

The Herald reported this past Saturday that Columbia Mall's new food court (dubbed "Dakota Cafe") is "on its way to completion." The truth is that construction wrapped up a month or two ago and the food court has been finished for quite some time. Everything is in place for an opening except for one thing: restaurants. The sad fact is that Columbia Mall - once a bustling space filled with shoppers and stores - has lost so much of its vitality that it has found it almost impossible to attract even one or two restaurants to its shiny new food court.

If you have visited Columbia Mall recently, you have seen the plywood walls encasing the food court. You can look through those little windows in the plywood to check up on "construction." Of course, construction of the food court itself is actually finished. My guess is that we are supposed to think that construction workers are busy building restaurants behind the black plastic curtains that hang from the food court's back walls. That's what I naively thought. Then, about a month ago, I found that you could look into the food court from an entirely different side that is accessible from the new restroom/customer service area. Here, you come right up to the plastic curtains hiding "construction." I sneaked a peak behind the curtains to see how construction was going. Guess what...there was nothing at all happening. Nothing. No construction of even one restaurant.

I soon found out, through several sources familiar with Columbia Mall, that the mall hasn't found any food vendors who are willing to locate in Dakota Cafe. Apparently, they see the quiet corridors and stores in the mall and foresee only quiet restaurants if they locate in the food court. I really can't blame them. It seems unlikely that the mall will be able to attract enough people to the food court to make it profitable for chains to set up shop there.

Dakota Cafe is equipped to handle eight vendors, but it looks like the mall will be lucky if it is even able to locate a couple of establishments in the space any time soon. The new owners of the mall, GK Development of Barrington, Illinois, had high hopes when they purchased the mall a while back. In addition to the food court, an announcement was made that Wallace Theaters would be building a multiplex in the former Target space. The multiplex is now a dead issue and it is looking more and more like the food court will be a least for the time being.

I was very excited when the new owners took over the mall. I thought that the old owners had been neglectful and that they had become "bored" with the mall. GK Development was supposed to pump new life into Columbia Mall. Instead, the mall is still extremely quiet and hasn't seen many new stores open up. About the only visible changes that GK has made have been the addition of new vending machines and tacky kiosks that "junk up" and clutter the corridors.

My feeling is that the food court will NOT be successful during this ongoing slump that the mall is in. If the multiplex had actually been built, perhaps there would have been enough new traffic in the mall for the theater and food court to feed off of each other. This could have brought more shoppers to the currently very quiet stores. Unfortunately, until either the theater is built or something else (another department store?) takes over the old Target space, I can't see Columbia Mall attracting many more customers than it currently does. The explosive growth of big box stores along 32nd Avenue will only continue to signal the end of the mall's heyday. I would love to see things differently. Columbia Mall used to seem so busy and exciting when I was a kid. Who knows...maybe it will still feel that way again someday.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005


I'm glad to see that you found me here! This is my new blog all about life in Grand Forks. There is more to Grand Forks news than just the Herald. I intend to publish stories here that you won't find anywhere else. I may be a bit more gossipy than the more established media outlets. However, if I post something here, I do have some source or basis for the information that I provide. Also, in addition to just reporting the news as I see it, I will be posting quite a few of my own opinions about Grand Forks issues. I look forward to seeing you around here!