Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Newsbits: more downtown housing, Space Aliens, Mike McNamara

•Looks like there are more proposals for downtown housing. The Grand Forks City Council Finance/Development Standby Committee is meeting this afternoon to discuss "townhouses/apartments on University Avenue across from Augustana Lutheran Church and second phase of Brownstones". Looks like the developer is already talking about the second Elite Brownstones project which will be right north of downtown. I'm interested in the "townhouses/apartments on University Avenue across from Augustana Lutheran Church"...I haven't heard anything about this project before. Can't wait to hear more. It's amazing how much housing is coming to the downtown area.

Update - 6/1/2006
Tu-Uyen has some more information about the downtown housing proposals.

•Looks like the Space Aliens Grill and Bar chain is still planning to open a Grand Forks more (scroll down to the bottom of the article to see the mention I'm talking about...and I wasn't aware of a new Minot location before reading this).

•Thanks to Tu-Uyen for pointing out to me that Grand Forks City Council candidate Mike McNamara has his own website. It would still be nice to see more of the candidates start blogging in these final days before the June city elections.

New strip malls

I was excited to see the article in Saturday's business section of the Herald about three new strip malls that will soon be coming to Grand Forks. Interestingly, the three malls are all being developed by the same developer - Dakota Commercial & Development - and will all open this fall.

University Village strip mall (or "Service Village II", but that's an ugly name if you ask me) will be built across the street and to the north of the exisiting University Village strip mall (the one with Club Tan and Jimmy John's). The new mall will be a $2 million dollar, 20,000 square foot, two-story structure. Except for the second story, it should look pretty similar to the current strip mall at University Village. I'm curious if the second story will house offices or residential space. It would be nice to see some larger scale buildings in University Village with commercial on the ground floor and several floors of residential above. The name "Service Village" makes me think that Dakota Commercial isn't planning on this being much of a retail strip mall...more "service" businesses instead. The mall is supposed to have some sort of a coffee shop (I believe drive-thru) and it seems logical to picture Starbucks coming to University least that's my hope.

•"On 32nd" is a new one-story strip mall coming on 32nd...32nd Avenue, that is. It will cost $4 million and be 25,000 square feet. It will be in front of the new Kohl's store and directly west of Burger King. A Golden Corral restaurant was previously announced for this area, I wonder if the restaurant will be in the strip mall or what? Perhaps Golden Corral will be farther west...closer to 34th Street and Culver's. This strip mall will be the one built in the busiest location so look for "On 32nd" to have some pretty good stores/restaurants. I would like to see a Panera Bread or maybe another Caribou Coffee.

•"Cottage Growth" (or was the article supposed to read "Cottage Grove"?) will be a two-story strip mall on South Washington across from the new Aurora Medical Park/Stadter Center development. This area seems to be really heating up. A Wells Fargo bank and a new Valley Dairy also appear to be on there way to this neighborhood. The strip mall will be 46,200 square feet and cost $6.2 million. This is a pretty big development and it will be interesting to see what comes to such a new part of town. Maybe another Starbucks? And yes, I love Starbucks. Have a problem with that?

Any opinions on what you would like to see come to any of these new strip malls? I'm thinking we could be getting some good new restaurants or smaller stores with around 90,000 square feet of new strip malls. Exciting to see more commercial growth in Grand Forks.

Introducing: Newsbits

This is the first installment of what should become a regular feature here on Grand Forks Life. Some of you will probably recognize it as a blatant imitation of Tu-Uyen's "Quickies" from his City Beat blog. I like the idea of being able to post something about many different topics without having to say so much about each topic. In the past, I have skipped posting about a topic just because I thought the post would be too short. This way, I can group together a couple of different mini posts (maybe related, maybe very unrelated) into one bigger post. I also like having a section like this where I can put up links to some of the more interesting topics that other area bloggers are talking never hurts to do a little linking between blogs from time to time. I'm not 100% sure about the name "Newsbits"...any other ideas or is this decent? I thought of "GrandForksGuy's Briefs", but that just sounds naughty...funny though, huh?

So here goes...

•Tu-Uyen has put up a couple of interesting posts about the upcoming city elections in Grand Forks. Check out this post to see how the candidates score on the ever important conservative/liberal scale. Looks like we have a pretty conservative bunch of candidates. Most conservative: Peder Rice. Least conservative: Tom Potter. Tu-Uyen also has a poll going to see who people think will win in the two competitive wards. It will be fun to see if his results mirror the election results.

By the way, does anybody else get a kick out of the fact that Tom Potter's wife is "Weezie"? I always think of a "deluxe apartment in the sky" when I see that name. In my book, Potter should get props for being the candidate with the best spouse's name.

•Ward 2 candidate Peder Rice has his own blog. The lack of posts makes me think that Peder must be busy hitting the pavement campaigning instead of blogging. Anyways, it's interesting to see a candidate with his (or her) own blog. I would have been happy to see some of the other candidates follow suit. For that matter, it isn't too late...start blogging, candidates!

Monday, May 29, 2006

UND's second largest gift ever

As you're probably aware, this past week, the UND Foundation received their second largest gift ever (right after Ralph's $100 million). The Danley Gift is valued at $10 million and is the bulk of the estate of the late Roy Danley and Elnora (Hopper) Danley. Unlike a lot of big donors, the majority of the Danley gift is not designated for a specific major building project or program. Instead, only $1 million is already programmed for several smaller projects and the remaining $9 million can be used for whatever UND deems "priority needs".

I'm pleased to see that Mrs. Danley's love affair with the natural beauty of the UND campus led her to donate money for several projects in the vicinity of the English Coulee.

The Adelphi Fountain at UND is a century old, but it has been in shameful disrepair for years. To me, it has always seemed to be such a logical symbol for the campus and I'm so happy to see a former student felt the same way. I can't wait to see what the fountain will look like after a thorough restoration project.

The Memorial Wall is a campus project that got plenty of discussion over the past school year, but there didn't really seem to be a push (or funding) to get the project going. Now, the Danley gift will be funding this wall. The wall will memorialize members of the UND community that have died while at rather prominent figure comes to my mind.

Another interesting project that the Danley gift will be funding includes a new ecumenical "Spiritual Center" near the Memorial Wall and the Adelphi Fountain. It will be used for "meditation, prayer, small worship groups, and weddings." Should be an interesting addition to campus. Its look reminds me a bit of the prairie churches that used to dot the local landscape of the Red River Valley.

Other projects that the Danley gift will be funding includes a garden at the entrance of the new Wellness Center and a "Quiet Room" in the Wellness Center. The quiet room appears to incorporate a labyrinth.

It will be great to see these projects dot the campus landscape in the next few months. It's also going to be very interesting to see what UND determines is a "priority need". Funding for a Division I move? A new indoor running track? I personally would like to see the gift spent on something other than athletics for a change. I can think of many "priority needs" around campus.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Canad Inns to build in Bismarck?

Canad Inns, the Winnipeg-based hotel chain that is currently building a $50 million dollar, 200 room, 13-story hotel and waterpark complex adjacent to Grand Forks' Alerus Center, is now proposing to build a $50 million dollar, 260 room, 16-story hotel and waterpark complex adjacent to Bismarck's Civic Center. Canad Inn's interest in the Bismarck market was first mentioned on Grand Forks Life in early February of this year...check out that post here.

I must say I'm a tad surprised to see Canad Inns proposing to build a project in Bismarck that is so similar (actually...even bigger) to what is currently under construction in Grand Forks. I thought our "destination center" was going to be such a unique thing for a city in a state like North Dakota? I thought that people would come from across the state to visit our waterpark because there would be nothing else like it anywhere else in the state? That is pretty much what Canad Inns said in the past when they were proposing the Grand Forks complex, but now they turn around and propose basically the same project in Bismarck. Hmmm.

Why such a big project connected to a facility like the Bismarck Civic Center? It is smaller than the Alerus Center or Fargodome and gets far fewer events. It is also much older than a facility like the Alerus Center and doesn't have the same level of familiarity or popularity throughout the state and region like the Alerus, Engelstad, or the Fargodome do.

When I think of the long road it took for Canad Inns to actually start construction in Grand Forks, I think I'll believe this project when I see it.

Bismarck Tribune articles about the proposal:
Canadian hotel pitches Civic Center plan
Canad outlines hotel's features

Prairie Pundit

Looks like the Grand Forks Blogosphere is growing. Tom Dennis, editorial director at the Grand Forks Herald, just started his own blog, Prairie Pundit. Looks like he will be blogging about local topics and his apparent Dunkin' Donuts fetish.

I'm curious, is this going to replace the Herald's editorial blog, Northscope?

Either way, I look forward to reading Prairie Pundit and I hope all you Grand Forks Life readers will too. Welcome to the Grand Forks blogging community, Tom!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

$$$ for UND?

Rumor has it that there is going to be a very big announcement made on Thursday about a major donation to UND. Supposedly this will be the second largest donation to UND ever, right after Ralph Engelstad's $100 million. Stay tuned for more coverage.

Update - 5/25/2006
UND is getting a $10 million dollar gift from the estate of Roy and Elnora (Hopper) Danley who attended UND in the 1930s. $1 million will go to various campus projects including restoration of the Adelphi Fountain, construction of a spiritual center, construction of a memorial wall, construction of a "quiet lounge" in the Wellness Center, and a memorial garden at the entrance of the Wellness Center. The other $9 million will be used for "priority needs" according to President Kupchella. Read more here.

BIG news about Altru

Altru Health System of Grand Forks announced on Tuesday plans to soon start a new building project that will total $100 million dollars worth of expansion and remodeling of the Altru medical campus and result in the hiring of 38 new physicians and 400 other medical personnel.

Few of you may remember this because I wasn't getting as many readers way back then, but I first mentioned such a project on Grand Forks Life in late December of last year. At that time, I only knew that Altru was talking about what I thought was a $40 million dollar project of some sort...who could have imagined a $100 million dollar project? That's one Ralph Engelstad Arena or two Canad Inns...take your pick, either way the scope of this monumental project should be clear.

This is BIG news...some of the biggest we've heard for Grand Forks in the last few years. The press release from Altru states that the project will "touch on virtually every area of the Altru campus." The face of healthcare is going to be forever changed in Grand Forks.

Some of the projects mentioned:
•"renovation and re-engineering" of the hospital
•"renovation and re-engineering" of the clinics
•a new "ambulatory surgical center"
•expansion of Altru Cancer Center
•expansion of heart and vascular services
•an investment in cutting-edge technology
•an electronic medical records system
•renovation of satellite clinics in the region

Besides the many proposed building projects, the other thing that shocked me when I first heard the news and excites me now is plan for so many new positions: 400 new medical personnel and 38 new physicians. The average salaries for the medical personnal will be $40,000 and we all know how much doctors make...this is going to be a huge economic boost for Grand Forks.

I see Grand Forks residents no longer having to travel 70 some miles down the interstate for certain procedures. I see Grand Forks becoming more and more of a healthcare center.

Something else that still makes me think is the fact that there is a real possibility that the Stadter Center/Aurora Medical Park on South Washington Street (that's what they're calling it, by the way...the Aurora Medical Park) could evolve into a whole new healthcare system with their own hospital. It could happen. I wonder if Altru's announcement changes plans for the developers of that complex.

One report that I saw on tv mentioned that Altru's construction projects would begin soon and another report said that some remodeling projects have already started. I have noticed construction equipment in the rear of the Altru campus recently. It looks like the first phase of this project should get underway in earnest before too long.

I have to say that I'm very impressed with Altru's level of commitment to the community. It makes me feel good when I see a company like Canad Inns willing to spend $50 million dollars on a Grand Forks project and it makes me feel great when I see an organization like Altru willing to spend $100 million dollars on a Grand Forks project. These two entities seem to have plenty of faith in the future of our fair city.

Stay tuned for more updates on this exciting project. I can't wait to see some sketches of some of the proposed building projects.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Campus construction

Here's another first look at a new building coming this summer to the UND campus: the Northern Plains Center for Behavioral Research...

Northern Plains Center for Behavioral Research

Construction is supposed to begin sometime this summer. The building will cost around $4 million and should be finished by spring of 2007. Researchers will use the facility to study everything from gambling addiction to Alzheimer's Disease. It will be adjacent to the existing School of Nursing building on the north side of University Avenue. Interesting to see construction of a new building so close to the heart of campus.

The most visible construction project taking place on campus this summer has to be the new parking garage under construction at the corner of Columbia Road and University Avenue. For those of you who haven't see what it will look like when finished, take a look...

Parking Garage

Impressive, huh? I especially like the walkway over Columbia Road. It will look like the "official" gateway to campus.

Then, of course, we have the gigantic Wellness Center inching closer to completion on the banks of the English Coulee north of campus...

Wellness Center

Ground has also been broken on the site of the National Center For Hydrogen Technology on the grounds of the Energy and Environmental Research Center. This project should be a real boon for the EERC and the city as a whole because it promises to bring many high paying jobs to Grand Forks.

There are many other smaller projects that will take place over the next few months at UND including a new roof for the Chester Fritz Auditorium and landscaping and parking lot improvements. Even if most of the students will be gone, it's going to be a busy summer at UND.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Arrests at Wal-Mart

The ongoing construction project at the Grand Forks Wal-Mart store was shut down today after "three or four" illegal aliens were arrested and led out of the store in handcuffs. Word is that the arrests took place last night and the arresting officers seemed to know exactly who they were looking for and where in the store they would be found. This is not the first time that illegals have been found working on Wal-Mart construction sites in North Dakota. It happened in Dickinson and Bismarck last year. The latter of those two incidents involved two illegal immigrants who were charged with molesting two 13-year-old girls. That incident led to all Wal-Mart construction sites in the state being temporarily shut down. No word yet on when construction will be started again on the Grand Forks Supercenter. This bad news story will surely sour the day for Wal-Mart locally. They just opened the new Thief River Falls Supercenter today and I'm sure they aren't very thrilled to see this story pop up on the radar.

Update - 5/19/2006
The Say Anything blog linked to this post a little over an hour after I first posted it. Cool!

Update - 5/20/2006
Looks like the Grand Forks Wal-Mart wasn't the only Wal-Mart with illegal alien troubles this past week...check this out.

Update - 5/21/2006
I'm a little late in putting this link up, but the Herald had a short article in Thursday's paper about the it here. Sounds like the illegal immigrants were arrested at a local hotel (I believe the Lakeview Inn and Suites on 32nd Avenue) instead of in the actual Wal-Mart store like I had previously reported. By the way, it looks like most construction at the store is still at a standstill. I wonder who technically shut down the worksite, Wal-Mart or the Feds?

Monday, May 15, 2006

First look at new UND housing complex

The new $20 million dollar student housing complex that will soon be built on the UND campus looks to be a very impressive development. We've heard plenty about the development and the space has been cleared for construction, but we haven't seen any images of what the building will look like until now. So, without further ado...

The view from University Avenue.

A closer look at the structure.

A side view from the east.

An overhead view. Wow!

Some inside views...

I must say that somehow I wasn't expecting such a large or grand looking structure as what we see in those exterior views, but then again I guess $20 million buys more than you might think. I'm very glad to see that the building's exterior was designed to match fairly well with the historic buildings on campus. I once heard that the building would match the Aerospace buildings on the west side of campus, but I'm glad to see that the architect went with a more traditional appearence on the outside and a modern interior. As you're probably aware, this building will be constructed west of the Chester Fritz Auditorium. This should be a very impressive addition to University Avenue and I'm excited to see UND move student housing into the 21st century.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em?

I haven't heard any of the other media around town mention this yet, but the General Manager of the currently under construction Canad Inns Destination Center hotel and waterpark has been named. A Mr. Jeff Jasperson will be filling this position. Not very newsworthy you say? Well, here's the interesting thing: Jasperson was previously the General Manager of the Seven Clans Casino-Hotel-Waterpark in Thief River Falls. The Seven Clans complex will be seeing heavy competition from the Canad Inns complex when that hotel and waterpark open next year. I remember the local media outlets talking with Jasperson in the past about how much of an impact the Canad Inns complex would have on his Seven Clans complex when it opens. Apparently, Canad Inns decided that if they are going to take some traffic away from Seven Clans, they might as well go all out and take their General Manager too. I would say it's a shrewd move on the part of Canad Inns. Few people must know the local hotel and waterpark businesses as well as Mr. Jasperson. Sounds like a good choice for Canad Inns and a step up for Mr. Jasperson.

On a related note, Canad Inns has been putting up some pictures of progress on the Grand Forks complex...check them out.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Forbes article about Grand Forks

I was sent a link to a recent article in Forbes Magazine about Grand Forks' experience of bounding back from the brink of total devastation in the Flood of it here. Also, the magazine ranks Grand Forks as the 28th best smaller metropolitan area in the country for business and careers.

Some excerpts...
New Orleans, bumbling through its early recovery, dominates the headlines. But the upper Midwest remembers the soggy spring of 1997 all too well. Even before the three years' worth of snow (100 inches) that fell during the winter started melting, townsfolk stacked sandbags in anticipation of a raging Red River, which runs north to Manitoba's Lake Winnipeg. It did little good. The flood destroyed or damaged 11,000 homes and businesses and deposited 13,000 livestock carcasses throughout the valley. The water touched off a natural gas fire that engulfed 11 historic downtown buildings. Airborne water tankers were called in because fire trucks couldn't ford the 6-foot-deep water. "You read in the Bible, the end of the world?" then mayor Patricia Owens recalls. "That's how it felt."

Things feel better now in Grand Forks, which has ferociously clawed back from $2 billion in wreckage to thrive. The town lost 3,000 of its 47,000 people after 1997, but it recovered in two years and has added an additional 6,000 folks since.

Jobs come to Grand Forks because of its people, 89% of whom have high school diplomas (the national average is 80%) and 64% of whom have some education beyond high school.

The Lincoln Drive neighborhood, once a favorite of first-time home buyers, was leveled. It's now a park accessed through a handsome gate in the massive 12-foot levee walls, which surround the town like a medieval fortress. The levees, which are 85% complete, were tested this April when the Red hit its sixth-highest mark on record. No sandbags needed. "It was a nonevent," Mayor Brown says.

EERC has $50 million in annual contracts with companies from 47 countries and 50 states. Some of EERC's 300 employees just finished a project for ConocoPhillips and Pennsylvania enginemaker Lycoming in which they created the first E-85 fuel (85% ethanol) for use in airplanes. Others completed theoretical specs for an ultralow-emission coal power plant.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Valley Dairy, Wells Fargo eye southern Grand Forks intersection

It looks like an intersection in the far southern part of Grand Forks is going to be seeing plenty of development soon. This coming Monday, the city council will be asked to approve a host of projects which will extend utilities to the Meadow Ridge 1st Addition near the corner of South Washington Street and 47th Avenue South. The council's information packet mentions that these projects are being initiated by the developer, Valdak Corporation. Valdak is the owner of the Valley Dairy chain in Grand Forks, so I expect that this means we'll be seeing a new Valley Dairy in that part of the city soon. Also, this intersection is apparently getting a Wells Fargo bank in the near future. This intersection is near the Stadter Center medical complex which is currently seeing major expansion. It seems like more businesses moving into this area will create the synergy needed to encourage more commercial and residential growth in this neighborhood. Expect to see even more commercial development (stores, restaurants, etc.) between 32nd Avenue South and 47th Avenue South in the near future. Keep your eye on Grand Forks Life for further updates!

Friday, May 05, 2006

Radio Shack to close one Grand Forks store

The Radio Shack in the Grand Cities Mall is closing. Radio Shack has been a longtime tenant in the mall. This closing, part of a nationwide closure of 480 Radio Shack stores, leaves Grand Forks with one Radio Shack in the Columbia Mall. I have to admit that I always thought it was a bit unusual that we had two Radio Shacks in a city the size of Grand Forks.

By the way, apparently the Fargo Forum hasn't heard that the South Forks Plaza was renamed the Grand Cities Mall years ago. One more thing they'll have to learn if they want to buy the Herald...

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Dakota Harvest

Dakota Harvest Bakers, the new bakery coming to downtown Grand Forks next week, has just finished their website...check it out. Very nicely done. Their menu looks great (but no doughnuts? j/k). I'm anxious to try the place out and I hope others are also anxious. This is just the kind of business we need many more of downtown. Good job and good luck, Dakota Harvest!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

What's up at the Riverwalk?

I'm sure we are all well aware of the poor financial record of East Grand Forks' city owned mall, The Riverwalk Center. The city purchased the mall after the Flood of 1997 with the hopes that it would attract businesses and people to the downtown area. It did that...for about a year. The first year or two after the flood actually was a pretty good time for the mall. It had low (or no) vacancy and there was a steady stream of shoppers. Then, that all but dried up overnight. Today, this very small mall has high vacancy, few shoppers, and tenants who haven't paid their bills for literally years (does the city seriously think they will ever see any of that money???). The city would like to sell the property, but this isn't possible at least until next year because federal funds were used to purchase the mall and federal law requires the city to keep the property for at least ten years after the flood...which brings us to 2007. East Grand Forks mayor Lynn Stauss has publicly lamented that the Riverwalk Center was one of the city's...and his...biggest mistakes in the wake of the flood.

Now comes news that "something" is up at the Riverwalk Center. There is a persistent rumor going around that many of the mall's tenants will be leaving the mall and moving over to the Grand Cities Mall in Grand Forks. However, the rumor also has it that it wasn't the businesses decision to leave the Riverwalk Center...the city is asking them to move. Word is that "something" wants to come in and take over most of the mall space. A new store? Perhaps a department store? I know that Herbergers has been sought in the past. Also, it seems that a couple of the tenants do not want to leave the mall and it is plausible that the largest tenant in the mall...I think we all know what that is...would simply close up if they were forced to leave the mall. Like I said, this is all just a rumor right now. However, it is a very interesting rumor in light of all of the construction and development going on in the downtown area of Grand Forks. A department store down there could bring more people to the area. Guess we'll have to see just how true this rumor is.

Update - 5/17/2006
Jack's Shoes appears to be in the process of leaving the Riverwalk Center and moving to the Grand Cities Mall. Also, WDAZ just aired a story about the mall's woes, but didn't say anything about any possible new tenants. I should not that reporter Lacey Crisp was wrong when she said that the city would keep the mall for ten more years and then maybe sell it. As stated in my original post above, the ten years that the city is talking about started in 1997...not 2006. That means that the ten years are up next year...not 2016.

New poll time

Time to change the poll again. Check out the results of the previous poll, "What type of restaurant would you most like to see added to the new Columbia Mall food court?". The most popular answer was "Ethnic" at 40%. "Coffee shop" got 22%, "Fast food" received 20%, and "Bakery" garnered 16%. I must have covered the most popular restaurant formats with those options because "Other" only got 1% of the total vote.

It sounds like Taco Del Mar will be opening in the food court in the near future so hopefully that should satisfy the craving out there for ethnic food in the mall. Also, Starbucks has shown interest in the food court in the past. Guess we'll have to see how things turn out! I ate in the food court last week. It's really a nice place to have a meal...I'm so glad our mall finally has a food court.

Time for the new poll. This time, the question is "What would you like to see more of in downtown Grand Forks?". Feel free to comment on the poll or your vote here. I look forward to seeing what everyone thinks we need more of downtown. Happy voting!