Sunday, February 26, 2006

UND Student Senate may air meetings on TV

Looks like the UND Student Senate may start airing their meetings on local cable channel 3. Kudos to student body president Bobby Haskins for getting this going. I have always appreciated the access that airing Grand Forks City Council meetings gives the residents of Grand Forks...nice to see that UND students may be getting the same service soon. Hopefully, Grand Forks County will hop on the bandwagon soon. As long as a governing body doesn't have anything to hide, they should be happy to make their meetings and deliberations open to the people they serve.

Update - 3/1/06
The Grand Forks Herald seems to agree with least on this issue.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Snapshot of the local economy

Once a month, the Grand Forks Herald publishes an interesting column in which local economist (and former State Board of Higher Education member) Ralph Kingsbury analyzes the Greater Grand Forks economy. Check out the current column which came out in today's paper. Grand Forks Life readers might find it interesting since it shows that, in the words of Mr. Kingsbury, "we must conclude that business has faith in Grand Forks." Except for the ongoing low boarding numbers at Grand Forks International Airport, the column is quite an upbeat snapshot of where our city stands early in 2006.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Big box boom?

New Target store in south Fargo?
New Wal-Mart store in south Fargo?
New Wal-Mart in Dilworth? (albeit, replacing an existing store)

With headlines like these about Wal-Mart and Target, two of the nation's largest retailers, potentially opening additional stores in the Fargo-Moorhead metropolitan area, it makes me wonder how long it will be before we hear about a second Wal-Mart or maybe even another Target in Greater Grand Forks. Bismarck-Mandan (very similar in size to Greater Grand Forks) is also in the process of getting a second Wal-Mart store. If Fargo-Moorhead is going to have three Wal-Marts and Bismarck-Mandan is going to have two Wal-Marts, it seems quite plausible that the company might think of opening another store in Grand Forks-East Grand Forks. I'm not saying that another Wal-Mart would be a good thing or a bad thing, but it is a possibility that seems more and more like an eventual likelihood.

I'm trying to think of locations where they could build one...East Grand Forks? Maybe somewhere in the Gateway Drive corridor? Any part of town that they put a new Wal-Mart in is bound to see other retailers move in making the area another commercial center like 32nd Avenue.

I can't see us getting another Target anytime soon seeing as how our current Target store is a SuperTarget.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

New poll question!

I've taken down the old poll "Which restaurant would you most like to see in Grand Forks?". You can click here to view the results from that poll. I didn't find it too surprising that The Olive Garden was the top vote getter at 33%. It seems like people have been wishing for one of those for years now. It should be a sign to the company that Grand Forks really seems to want them here. The next most desired restaurant was Space Aliens with 28% of the vote. Rounding out the results were IHOP at 23% and Johnny Carino's with just 15% of the vote. Thanks to everyone who voted!

Time for a new question...
What would you most like to see attached to the new Canad Inns hotel/waterpark complex? By the way, if you answer "Other", please leave a little note here letting us know what you would wish for. Happy voting!

Friday, February 17, 2006

Happy Birthday, Alerus Center!

This month marks the 5th birthday of The Alerus Center. It seems like just yesterday that I attended the opening ceremony on February 10, 2001. seems like just yesterday that I first became sold on the whole idea of The Aurora (that's what it was going to be called) back in the mid-90s. I was just a young teenager way back then, but I was really excited about the whole idea of an events center. I remember watching the returns from the special elections back in the late 90s with nervous anticipation. I literally clipped out each and every Grand Forks Herald article about the events center…it was that interesting and important to me.

Like any facility of this magnitude, The Alerus has had its ups and downs. Call me optimistic if you will, but I think the ups overwhelmingly outweigh the downs. Yes, there haven't always been as many concerts scheduled as we would all like to see and sometimes the attendance has been a bit weak. However, I don't see how anybody...even the Aurora-haters of the 90s...can ignore the benefits that this facility has had on our city. Pre-Alerus, literally no large concerts came to town and any exhibition that came had to go to the tragically outdated and very small Civic Auditorium. The Cher concert at The Alerus was the largest concert Cher has ever had...that's pretty incredible. Pre-Alerus, no one thought of Grand Forks as a "destination" for much of anything other than college and shopping on the weekends. Now, an outside company (Canad Inns) is spending $50 million on a "destination" center. Pre-Alerus, we had no real catalyst for community growth. Now, The Alerus, The Ralph, The Greenway, and many new retail developments are making our community more and more attractive to a growing number of new residents. We have new investments being made all over town, including downtown. Grand Forks is growing and The Alerus has had a hand in that growth.

The Alerus doesn't make money. In fact, it looses some each year. The Alerus was never supposed to make money! It brings people to town almost every day of the year and those people spend money at hotels, restaurants, stores, and golf courses. Sales tax revenues are up all of the time in Grand Forks and the Alerus is usually given some level of credit for being a factor in the growth. Stores and restaurants are seeing more and more customers all of the time. New stores and restaurants set up shop every year in town. Without the Alerus, we wouldn't have a company building a $50 million hotel and entertainment complex. Developments like that just don't get built everyday in North Dakota.

The Alerus has given us and, I believe, will continue to give us growth and opportunity.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Pile driving for Canad Inns tower starts

In case you haven't been by the Alerus Center in the past couple of days, you might be interested to know that pile driving is now officially underway for the Canad Inns hotel tower. This is a major part of the early phase of construction. Take a drive down 42nd Street and look for the tall "pipes" sticking out of the ground north of the Alerus Center. Those pipes are located right where the 13-story hotel will stand. The construction site is now blocked off from us curious spectators, but you can actually still get up quite close to the area where they are driving pile.

Pile driving is a means of using the stronger lower soil layers to hold the weight of the building instead of just plopping the foundation down in the relatively loose and unstable upper layers. In other words, without pile driving, the Canad Inns tower could practically "blow over" in a strong windstorm. Yikes!

It doesn't appear that they have moved earth yet for the water park.

I wonder how the loss of so much parking area is going to go with the upcoming Aerosmith concert...

Friday, February 10, 2006

A modest (and important) proposal

The city of Grand Forks has recently been looking at extending its "extraterritorial area" from two miles beyond city limits to four miles. This area serves as somewhat of a "buffer zone" between the city and country. The city is able to more closely control development in the extraterritorial area.

Such areas are very important in managing the growth and aesthetics of a city like Grand Forks. Without this "buffer zone", the city would have no control over what goes on with developments just outside of the city limits. If Grand Forks didn't have such an area, someone could come in and build an eyesore like a smoke-spewing factory just south of town as long as the county went along with the development.

The proposal to extend this buffer zone two more miles seems only prudent and sensible to me. Any current developments in the newly designated extraterritorial area would be grandfathered in. In other words, nothing would change for those who live on the land. The only thing that would change is that the city would be able to have control over what gets built in the fields immediately surrounding Grand Forks so we don't someday end up with industrial uses right next to residential developments or ugly subdivisions on main businesses thoroughfares.

The Grand Forks County Commission is none to pleased with the proposal to extend the buffer area. I think it is time for Grand Forks County to wake up and realize that the city of Grand Forks is, without a doubt, the most economically important entity located in the county. If the city wants to control its destiny, the county should go along with it. The city's destiny is the county's destiny.

Update - 2/22/06
The city council gave preliminary approval last night for extending the extraterritorial boundaries from two miles to four miles. The only dissenting votes were Bob Brooks and Gerald Hamerlik. Another interesting development came to light at the meeting: the county is planning to allow construction of a 38-home development right next to Grand Forks International Airport...under the path of the new runway which will be constructed in the near future. In the words of council president Hal Gershman: "There will be the constant noise of 100 propeller-driven aircraft a day." Just another example of why the county shouldn't have the last say about how the area right around the city gets developed...

Thursday, February 09, 2006


In case you haven't noticed, Grand Forks Life now has a poll section on the left side of the screen. I picked the current question because it pertains to a pretty popular conversation we've been having here. I'll change the question every week or so. If you can think of any good polls, don't hesitate to suggest! And by the way, be sure to's your duty!

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

More downtown housing

It sounds like there could soon be yet another new housing option for those who want to live in downtown Grand Forks. MetroPlains of St. Paul is proposing the Dakota Block apartments. The complex would sit on North Third Street at a location that is currently a parking lot directly north of the Uptown/Downtown building (formerly The Edge). The proposal is for a 40-unit apartment building worth $4.9 million. MetroPlains does some very nice work with new construction, as well as with renovating historic buildings. It's interesting to note that MetroPlains owns the 40-unit Ryan House apartments which are just across the street from the proposed Dakota Block.

I must say that the only thing I would question about the project is the fact that 30 of the units would be aimed at "lower income" residents. Shouldn't we be focusing our efforts on seeking at least middle-income or even high-income residents who would bring more money and more developments along with them? Downtown has long been seen as a "lower income" neighborhood. I would like to see it take on a more upscale atmosphere.

Update - 2/10/06
In today's Dakota Student, Councilman Glassheim says that the average rent in this building will probably be between $500 and $700. Also, the article states that the building will have five to seven low-income units. Why did the Herald report that 30 of the 40 units are low-income?

Another update - 2/10/06
The paperwork for this apartment complex states the following:
*16 one bedroom units: 6 @ $500/month and 10 @ $615/month
*24 two bedroom units: 10 @ $605/month and 14 @ $750/month
*Estimation that 25% of renters will be elderly
*Largest units on ground floor

Image - JLG Architects

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The debut of GFTV

Monday night marked the first time that the city of Grand Forks has used its new city-operated television station, GFTV channel 2, to broadcast a city council meeting. The city will no longer pay UND to air council broadcasts on UND's channel 3. Instead, the city now has its very own channel. Although it cost the city $25,000 to buy equipment for the new station, the move will pay for itself in a few years because the city will no longer have to pay UND the $8,000 a year that it had been for the broadcast time on channel 3.

The picture quality seems to be a little better than what we were getting on channel 3, but the sound was terribly low on Monday night. I hope that city staff is able to get that fixed before next week. I had to turn my volume up as far as it goes!

Unless your TV is able to magically pick up new stations, be sure to program channel 2 so it appears in your regular lineup. Watching the city council is a Monday night tradition for me. Exciting, huh?

Monday, February 06, 2006

New restaurants in the works for Grand Forks

Get those tastebuds ready...we could be seeing some additions to the local dining scene over the next year or so. Several new restaurants are looking to set up shop in Grand Forks or have at least expressed interest in coming to the city. These include:

IHOP - This company has planned to open a Grand Forks restaurant for a couple of years now. They actually own the piece of land on 32nd Avenue South between Arby's and the Village Inn. From what I know, the Grand Forks restaurant will be owned by the same people who own the IHOP in Fargo. Apparently, that restaurant has had to make some changes since they opened and the owners are trying to smooth out problems (mainly with the design of the restaurant) before they open the new location in Grand Forks. Hopefully, those details have been ironed out and construction could start (::fingers crossed::) soon. In my opinion, we really need a new family, breakfast-style restaurant like this. The Village Inn doesn't do too much for me and both of the Perkins restaurants in town are outdated and rather inconsistent.

Space Aliens - This regional chain has locations in Fargo and Bismarck. They first talked about coming to Grand Forks back when the Grand Forks Marketplace was being designed. For whatever reason, they backed out at that time. Now, they appear ready to come to town. This past summer, they announced that they would be building a new Grand Forks location soon. We should be hearing more about this in the next few months. It would be nice to see something like this go up on 42nd Street near the Alerus. Since it is a theme-type restaurant, it would probably appeal to Alerus/Canad Inn tourists.

Erbert & Gerberts - This sandwich shop is similar to Jimmy John's. A while back, their website announced that they would be coming soon to Grand Forks. Probably a good fit with UND students.

The Pita Pit - This Canadian pita chain has new locations in Fargo and Minot and there are plans in the works for expanding to Grand Forks. I have been to the one in Fargo...very good food. Also probably a good fit with students.

Might be coming...

Olive Garden??? - I have heard several rumours regarding the owners of the Fargo Olive Garden opening a new Grand Forks location soon. This seems to be the chain that Grand Forks citizens most want to see come to town so a location here would probably go over quite well. Seems to me like it could be a good fit near the new Kohl's development on 32nd Avenue South.

Johnny Carino's??? - The owners of the Fargo restaurant also have rights to open a location in Grand Forks (as well as rights to several other major cities in the region. Seems plausible that they might come to Grand Forks before too long.

I can also see Panera Bread expanding to the Red River Valley in the near future. Like many chains, they would probably open a Fargo location first and then follow it up with a Grand Forks restaurant. It is worth watching what chains expand to Fargo if only to see what we might be getting here in Grand Forks in a year or two.

Office Max in Grand Forks to stay open

A confidential list that has been leaked apparently shows that the Grand Forks Office Max is safe from the recent round of store closings. The closest store that will be closing is in Hutchinson, Minnesota.


A "Beacon of Hospitality"

For those of you who are not aware, when the Canad Inns hotel tower in Grand Forks is completed, a large "beacon of hospitality" - a bright revolving spotlight - will be installed on the top of the building. Read about the efforts that the Brandon, Manitoba city council have undertaken to dim a Canad Inn spotlight in that city. I would love to see some more normal white searchlights similar to those on The Ralph...I don't want "a creepy Batsignal-like beacon illuminating the Prairie night".

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Mysterious Stadter Center construction explained...or is it?

There is a very interesting article in today's Herald. Apparently, the new construction currently going on near the Stadter Center doesn't include a new hospital. The large, 2-story building that is going up is an "office park" that will be leased to doctors and other businesses. With a pharmacy, lab, gift shop, and even a restaurant(?), it sounds to me like an attempt to start a major new clinic to compete with Altru.

However, don't write off a new hospital just because it isn't being built right now. Apparently, the Stadter Center owns a lot of land around the existing facilities and there are plans for ongoing development...plans that the center's vice president of operations, Cynthia Tredwell, refuses to comment on. If there weren't some major plans for something like a new hospital, why would future construction be such a hushed matter? They obviously have something planned that they are trying to keep hidden. With $20 million dollars of current expansion going on and a lot more planned, it seems to me like this medical campus could keep expanding until it reaches a point where constructing a new hospital would be the only conceivable option. I still think it is a matter of time until Altru has a major new competitor.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Canad Inns: Bismarck?

Recently, the city of Bismarck has been fielding proposals for a new hotel that could be built adjacent to the Bismarck Civic Center. Enter Canad Inns: Bismarck. Yep, Canad Inns - the company who is spending $50 million dollars to build a hotel complex here in Grand Forks - has submitted a proposal to the city of Bismarck expressing interest in the new project. Canad was one of three companies that submitted proposals.

Somehow, I don't see Canad Inns spending $50 million dollars to build a 200-room, 13-story hotel complex in Bismarck next to the Civic Center. Compared to the Alerus Center, the Civic Center gets far fewer events and is a much older and smaller facility. Still, I'm sure Canad would plan on some variation of the tower type design that they recently used in Brandon, Manitoba and are now constructing here in Grand Forks. Very interesting to see this company trying to enter the American market more and more.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

My new best friend

Dakota Huseby over at Voice of Dakota has added a link to Grand Forks Life on her blog page. Wasn't that nice of her! Thanks Dakota!

Canad Inns to start construction...and this time it's for least I think it is...

I drove by the Alerus Center tonight, but it was dark and I didn't notice that...A CRANE IS ON SITE!!! Yes! The day has finally come when the Canad Inns hotel complex will stop being just a sign bearing the empty promise "Coming Soon" and, instead, will morph into a busy construction site and a sign of progress and hope for the community.

Lately I have been wishing that I had kept a running list of groundbreaking dates that have been missed. I have always found this to be very odd: Canad Inns has the initiative to spend $40-$50 million dollars on a hotel complex, but they haven't had the initiative to actually start construction of the complex. I realize that these projects don't happen overnight, but I think almost everyone can agree with me that things could have been handled better by Canad Inns. I think we have all...including the mayor and city council...been nervous about this project over the last year or so.

Hopefully we will all hear the lovely sound of pile driving soon and we can breathe a sigh of relief then. Ladies and gentlemen...our long local nightmare is finally over! ::crossing fingers::