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 Pre-Alerus, literally no large concerts came to town and any exhibition that came had to go to the tragically outdated and very small Civic Auditorium.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.


JGS said...

I would say, personally, pre-flood/pre-alerus, Grand Forks had really nothing for restaurants, shopping, entertainment etc. After the flood and after the Alerus was built, Grand Forks grew rapidly with new businesses, residents and much more. Our economic growth boomed and still is(imo). We will still continue see this for years to come, just will be a matter of time when it levels out again until something else moves in and makes things boom again.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, most of what is written above is false and is, I suppose, rooted in hope. Most of the promises and expectations that were delivered in the campaign stages have not proved to be true. It appears that, because of public scrutiny, the Alerus Commission’s focus is to lose less. This is drastically counter to the property’s mission. Yes, it’s supposed to lose money but, at the expense of bringing in outside dollars to the community. The current “success story” is, the property lost less than planned. It appears that this was accomplished by down scaling overhead and marketing efforts. The end result is, the property loses less, but because of fewer events, there’s less individuals coming into the town and spending money.

The ballroom feature was touted to be the big “edge” that would set it apart from other destinations. This never panned out. Now this feature is an excuse and source of blame. The overpriced menus and labor are long gone. The excuse was “These are regional prices on par with other destinations”. The major concert promoters are not bringing the big concerts, and routing the talent to other markets. The in-house promotions budget will go away once the individual who pushed for the resource realizes that a banker needs to stick to banking and that event promotions are best left to the pros. I suppose it’s a logical reaction to the current fact that The Alerus is a rental property, and if there’s no demand for rentals, then you must do something to fill the open days. The problem is, it’s a difficult business and soon those funds will be long gone.

The complete story is also not released to the public. Add the tax donation to the operating loss and look at that number. Compare that to the five years of data that’s now on record and there’s major cause for concern. The community is largely apathetic about the issue so nobody is calling for anyone’s head.

It’s a very sad situation. I wish that it weren’t. It’s reality however, backed up with hard data.

ben said...

It's true that the Al hasn't performed as well as many had hoped, but it is still an asset to our community. Look at the list of events there over the last five years and it is hard to argue that the place has brough in money and people to the area, and Grand Forks in particular. It's true that development has occurred since the Alerus has been built, but IMO that would have happened regardless of the center. Interesting, though how NO development has taken place on South 42nd Street (except a gas station). That changes now that the Canad project is FINALLY underway, but five years ago, I would have thought that the area surrounding the Alerus would look a lot different than it looks today. (snow-swept fields) That is dissapointing, to say the least.
Overall, I think that the Alerus has been a success, but I hopefully will be a bigger one in the future.
Happy birthday, Al!

Michael W said...

Just hearing the phrase "supposed to lose money" really bothers me. This was my money spent on this facility... I don't want it to lose money. I want it to break even though. Is that too much to ask? I don't think so. With that mentality of 'losing less' don't you also lower performance?

I was one who was against the Aurora for obvious reasons... But, Grand Forks is such a better town for it. I don't live in GF any more but I experience GF pre and post flood. I have to say that I really miss GF. I miss it for all of the reasons stated in the other comments. GF has grown and it is not only a destination place, but a good place to live, and I miss it.

I just wish the mentality of the tax payers in GF wasn't so cavalier.

Amanda the Great said...

I remember working at the Amoco station right next to the Alerus when the Aurora was being built. You could see the damn thing from the window that faces out of the service area waiting room. I also remember coming to work the day after the roof fell in, and seeing an article in the Herald about it. The single most inarticulate person in town saw it happen, and the excerpt from the paper (which I saved because it was so incredibly redundant and funny) went as follows:

(This is the quote from the guy who saw the roof fall in):

"I saw a section come down, and I said, 'My God, that section came down!' And then came another section down."

Incredible. But at least they fixed that roof problem.

Brooks said...

Coming from Minot, I really appreciate what the Alerus has to offer. The Sioux football games are great, and though there hasnt been many big concerts lately, there are still a few. Without the Alerus, GF definately wouldnt be where it is today. Hopefully 42nd st will get some restaurants and other new businesess now.