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.