Thursday, August 24, 2006

Cirque du Soleil "review"

I wasn't lucky enough to get to go to last night's big Cirque du Soleil show at the Alerus Center, but that doesn't mean I can't be really ticked off at the Herald and writer Paulette Tobin for the ridiculous excuse of a "review" that appears on the front of today's paper.

First of all, what the heck is a review doing on the front page of the paper? Isn't the front page usually reserved for news stories or at least articles that aren't supposed to be biased or slanted? When was the last time you saw Marilyn Hagerty's restaurant reviews on the front page? Reviews belong elsewhere in the paper. Actually, this particular one would have been better off in the trash, come to think of it. Any past reviews that have appeared in the paper have gone deeper in...certainly not on the front page.

We all know the Herald hates the Alerus Center, but this is really sinking to a new low. In the past after major events like this, the paper has usually written up a short article that just contains the spin or "I didn't like the show because..." stuff. Why did the Herald decide to write a "review" of this event instead of the traditional brief story?

Why are we supposed to be so interested to hear what Ms. Tobin thought of the show? Is she a musical critic? The paper publishes Marilyn's restaurant reviews because she has been at the paper for years and has a following. Contrastingly, no one is very familiar with Tobin and I doubt few think of her as any kind of art or music critic. The "review" sounds more like a response paper from a high school student than a real review by a true critic. Using the Power Rangers and Jim Carrey as examples in a review? Yikes!

Also, what good does it really do to review an event that is over and already gone? When Marilyn reviews a restaurant in Grand Forks, it at least makes sense because the restaurant will still be there after the review comes out and people can use the review to decide whether or not they want to go there. Cirque du Soleil's Grand Forks stint is over and won't be happening again anytime soon so why do we really care whether or not Ms. Tobin liked it? Most of us weren't lucky enough to get a free ticket to the show...

Update - 9/22/06 - 2:21 AM
I couldn't help but notice that a review of Ms. Tobin's appears in today's paper. However, this time around the review starts with this little disclaimer: "This is a review and includes the writer's opinions." Hmmm, I think someone at the Herald (other than our friend Tu-Uyen) has been reading Grand Forks Life.

UND counts its students

The first day head count at UND was released on Wednesday and it shows a very small decline from last fall. I can't find an official news release, but I think the drop was less than 100 students. I'm sure the Herald will have a story in today's paper.

School officials don't seem to be too worried about the small drop. They say that larger than anticipated graduating classes the past three semesters and tougher admission standards for applicants are the likely cause. Still, the number of incoming freshmen this year is larger than what the school had been aiming for. With the tougher admission standards, UND hopes that it is getting better freshmen that are more committed to college and that will stay at the University until they graduate. If that's the case, it's great to see growth among the number of freshmen coming to UND since they will hopefully stay at UND for the full four (or five, or six, or seven, or eight...) years of their undergraduate career.

I would like to see a growing student body each year at UND, but I don't mind seeing the University become a little more selective in who it admits. UND is already literally exploding at the seams and the campus would simply not be able to house that many more students at this time. Hopefully the huge new parking ramp, the new student housing, and other campus construction projects will give the University more room to grow in the future. I really have no doubt that UND will continue an upward climb for the foreseeable future. We just have way too much going for us to imagine any other kind of evolution.

By the way, the initial first day head count is often different than the "official" head count released in a few weeks. Stay tuned to see how we "officially" add up.

I hope they remembered to count me...

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Downtown Grand Forks 40 years ago

A week or two ago I put up a postcard picture of downtown Grand Forks circa 1946. Interestingly, I have another postcard in my collection which shows downtown as it appeared in the 1960s...about twenty years after the other postcard. As you can see, this picture was taken from virtually the same spot as the earlier postcard's picture.

Clearly, not too much construction or demolition took place downtown from the 40s to the 60s. The days of "urban renewal" would come in the 70s and, of course, the flood would change downtown plenty in 1997. One interesting thing about this picture is how clearly it shows all of the buildings that used to sit south of Kittson Avenue on the river-side of South 3rd Street. As you can see, this stretch used to be lined with buildings. Now, the area is used for parking and the dike. Also, you can see the old grain elevator on South 5th Street. This area now houses the Police Department.

I just thought you might enjoy seeing this postcard since it is so strikingly similar to the other postcard I showed you, yet many details are even clearer and in full color.

Monday, August 21, 2006

No need to rush into this, k?

The Herald carried an article in today's paper about the pros and cons of dog parks.

A few interesting points:
•"In Boulder, Colo., large dogs have killed smaller dogs at the parks."
•"Matt Claussen, a park ranger in Boulder, said putting a lot of dogs together in a fenced-in area can create a pack mentality."
•"It can be very intimidating. I know of one where people won't go anymore because they say it is so scary."
"Some dog parks in Boulder once had nice tall grass and now are mostly dirt and gravel."

Yikes. This doesn't sound like anything that the city of Grand Forks should be rushing into without giving serious thought to location and design. And to think that if some people around here had their way, a major portion of the Greenway near downtown Grand Forks would already be an unfenced dog park!

I think it's high time the city listens to people on all sides of this issue. Right now, there is a very vocal pro-dog park faction that is trying to make construction of a dog park in the city limits of Grand Forks seem like both an absolute necessity and an emergency. I really don't think it is either. Let's take some time on this and get the design and the location right. Otherwise, we could potentially end up with both unhappy dog owners and unhappy residents.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Newsbits: Area Voices, new GGFYP blog

Area Voices vs. Blogspot
Looks like the Herald's UND Hockey blog is moving from their old home to a new home at the Fargo Forum's "Area Voices" blog hosting site. The move is "part of the transition from former Herald owner, Knight Ridder, to the new owner, Forum Communications Company". Not the greatest move, in my judgement. I've never been a big fan of Area Voices. I hope this doesn't mean that the City Beat and Prairie Pundit blogs have to move to Area Voices too. Tu-Uyen? Tom?

New Grand Forks blog...
Greater Grand Forks Young Professionals have started their own blog, check it out. Our friend Tu-Uyen Tran is a board member of GGFYP and he has done all of the blogging so far...under the name "Tuey". Is this something that people really call you, Tu-Uyen, or are you just being cute here? "Tuey" does roll off the tonque a little easier than "Tu-Uyen". Anyways, great to see the local blogging community get bigger!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

You heard it here first

I scooped them again.

WDAZ had a story on the Monday night newscasts about "new restaurants and stores" that are coming to 32nd Avenue South in the near future. As it turned out, they were talking about one new store - Ashley Furniture/Furniture Outlets USA - and one new restaurant - Golden Corral.

Golden Corral coming to town is still a news story? Many Grand Forks Life readers may remember when I first mentioned this restaurant coming to town...back in April. After I "broke" the story, it only took a day for the Herald to report the news, but it took 'DAZ four months. Four month old stories being paraded as news? Yikes! (Tu-Uyen must be loving this WDAZ bashing...)

As far as Ashley Furniture/Furniture Outlets USA coming to it just me or does anyone else find it funny that this news seems to have been out there since early June, but 'DAZ airs a report less than a week after I first "broke" the story?

I've said it before and I'm sure I'll say it again: I don't mind WDAZ or the Herald using this blog as a source. Actually, I take it as a compliment. I get a little snicker every time I see the story I just "broke" on this blog show up on TV or in the paper the next day.

Ok, I'll admit that the traditional media outlets would find out about new businesses sooner or later even if there was no Grand Forks Life. However, sometimes it seems like it would be more "later" than "sooner" without this blog. How many times can I scoop you guys!

Friday, August 11, 2006

Downtown Grand Forks 60 years ago

A while back, I came across this old postcard of downtown Grand Forks. The postcard is used and the postmark is from 1946, so I'm guessing that's around the time this picture was taken. In other words, this means that we're looking at downtown Grand Forks as it appeared 60 years ago...right after the end of the war and before the time of "urban renewal".

When I look at the picture, I can see many of the same landmarks that are still standing to this day. You can probably pick out obvious structures like Central High School and the Courthouse. I can see many other familiar faces, too. The old First National Bank building is still downtown. So is the old Griffith's Department Store, St. Johns Block, and the Ryan Hotel.

However, it's clear that, while much of downtown looks close to the way it did 60 years ago, much has changed as well. Look in the back of the picture...where's the Kennedy Bridge? It isn't there yet. Where are the parking ramps? They wouldn't come for years. The old library would stand for a couple more decades before the first ramp would be built on that property. Other unfamiliar sights to us include the old Security Building on the north side of downtown. The fire which would devastate downtown 50 years later would start in the Security Building. How about all those buildings so close to the river? They would slowly vanish over the coming years and the flood would have the final say.

It might be confusing for some to look at the old postcard and pick out individual buildings and areas. That's why I made up this annotated version...

It's interesting to look at some of the areas that I have boxed off. These show whole sections of downtown that have succumbed to "urban renewal", new developments, or disaster over the years. Clearly, a good portion of downtown circa 1946 is no more. Kind of fascinating, huh?

(BTW, If you want to get a closer look at the pictures, just click on them.)

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

New furniture store coming to town

Furniture Outlets USA, a Sioux Falls-based furniture store chain that operates stores under several names, is planning a new Grand Forks store. The company currently operates the large Furniture Outlets USA store in West Fargo.

Besides the "Furniture Outlets USA" name, the company also operates stores under the name "Ashley Furniture HomeStore". A representative of the company tells me that they are still unsure of which format they will go with for the new Grand Forks store. Also, it is unclear where in town the store will be located. He did say to expect the store's arrival in Grand Forks hopefully by next spring.

As far as location...I'm guessing south Grand Forks. Maybe next to Kohl's?

New poll: chains downtown?

Closing the old poll...
Time to close the old poll question, "Which of the new downtown restaurants is your favorite?" The winner? Check out the results. It was fairly close, but Dakota Harvest Bakers won with 31% of the vote. They beat out The Toasted Frog which got 28% and Joe Black's which got 25%. 15% of voters had no opinion. Voting was pretty close between the three establishments. There doesn't really appear to be any resounding favorite out there. Interesting. I wonder how business has been at the three restaurants?

Opening the new poll...
Time for the new poll question, "What do you think about chain stores and restaurants in downtown Grand Forks?" I'll be interested to see what you all have to say about chains downtown. Should we be actively trying try to get chain stores and restaurants downtown? Should we let just a few in? How about a "chain-free" downtown? What are your opinions?

Walking the labyrinth

On Sunday, a friend and I had a picnic in a downtown Grand Forks park. After our meal, we took a brief stroll down 3rd Street and into the Greenway. We wanted to take a look at the new labyrinth that has been constructed in the Community Green area south of the Sorlie Bridge.

The labyrinth was dedicated on Saturday in honor of former Grand Forks Herald publisher Michael Maidenberg. Maidenberg has been credited for encouraging the revitalization of downtown Grand Forks after the flood, so the city wanted to express their gratitude in some way. Maidenberg had called for construction of a labyrinth in the Greenway a few years back.

I think the labyrinth is a great addition to the Greenway. It offers an excellent opportunity for residents to spend a few moments reflecting, praying, or meditating as they walk to the center of the labyrinth and back again. Something like this gives the Greenway a touch of class and was a unique idea. What better place to add a meditative spot than in the center of the city?

Monday, August 07, 2006

Chautauqua reborn

The century-old tradition of Chautauqua has come to the city of Grand Forks in the last few days.

What is Chautauqua? According to Wikipedia: "The Chautauqua was a popular educational movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries in the United States. When the Chautauqua came to town, it brought entertainment for the whole community, with speakers, teachers, musicians, entertainers and specialists of the day."

The Chautauqua that's been visiting Grand Forks also has speakers, teachers, and musicians. Daily activities have been going on at the Myra Museum on Belmont Road and nightly activities take place "under the big blue tent" in Lincon Drive Park near downtown. Each night at 7 P.M., a speaker portrays a historical figure and gives a presentation about that individual. On Monday night, former UND professor D. Jerome Tweton will be playing John Jacob Astor (America's first millionaire).

I love seeing something like this come to Grand Forks. This recreation of the Chautauqua experience is a sentimental nod to a more innocent America of 100 years ago. It's also a chance for citizens to learn (the goal of Chautauqua) about the lives of influential Americans and our country's rich history.

I'm going to Monday night's lecture and I hope (::crossing fingers::) to see the place packed.

Update 8/8/2006
I went to Dr. Tweton's portrayal of John Jacob Astor this evening and I thoroughly enjoyed the night. What a great thing having something like Chautauqua pay a visit to our city. There was a good crowd at the lecture so that pleased me. It was such a lovely evening and Lincoln Drive Park is a wonderful place for events like this. The music before the lecture was great too.

There is one more night of Chautauqua left. On Tuesday night at 7 P.M., a man will be portraying York. I encourage you to experience Chautauqua while you still can.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Speedway leaving fairgrounds?

I've heard talk lately that the River Cities Speedway would like to vacate their current home on the old fairgrounds and build a new speedway further out from town (presumably to the west on Highway 2). I personally think this would be a great thing. First, it would give the speedway the chance to build a newer, more modern facility with better visibility and in an area that would have room for expansion. Secondly, it would (hopefully) mean an end to the roaring sounds that fill the north side of Grand Forks most Friday evenings in the summer months.

I'm sure money would be the main obstacle for such a move. I'm not sure what it would cost to build a speedway, but I'm assuming the biggest expense would be a new grandstand. That wouldn't be cheap. Perhaps the River Cities Speedway could take a cue from other athletic venues (including many racetracks) and consider selling naming rights to the track. I'm sure there would be companies that would be interested in having their name appear on the speedway. Rydell Speedway? Hugo's Speedway? Who knows.

I hope the River Cities Speedway is looking into this move seriously. I think it would be a win-win for all concerned parties. Another possible outcome could be redevelopment of the old fairgrounds. Without anyone really using the property any longer, why not look into selling it to an interested developer(s)? A new commercial development on the property might be just what's needed to turn things around on Gateway Drive.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

One for The Ralph

According to the Grand Forks Herald, country music stars Billy Currington, Jason Aldean, and Trace Adkins will have a concert at the Ralph Engelstad Arena on December 2.

With the Alerus Center's upcoming Cirque du Soleil and Black Eyed Peas concerts, it's good to see The Ralph get something like this on their schedule. I'm always curious if both arenas have bid on events like this and what made one get it over the other.

Update - 8/4/2006
Speaking of the local concert scene, The Dixie Chicks just canceled their upcoming Fargodome concert. I suppose I should feel bad for the Dome. This was supposed to be their big summer concert...

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The return of My Grand Forks

Looks like JGS regretted his recent decision to close his My Grand Forks blog. He has it back up and running again. Good for you, JGS. Now let's just hope you're here to stay...enough with all these publicity stunts!

New coffee shop coming to Columbia Mall

Something called Porpoura Coffee House is coming to Columbia Mall on September 1. It will be in the J.C. Penney wing...any ideas in which spot?

Something stinks and it isn't Simplot

Many people have expressed less than positive feedback in regards to the city of Grand Forks' "revamped" website. I'm not so hot on it myself, either. However, most of the displeasure seems to be directed at the look of the website. I haven't heard many people talking about problems with the functionality of the site.

I have major concerns with the forms that citizens can use to report streetlight or sidewalk problems. Don't get me wrong...I LOVE the idea of the city's website including forms like these. I requested them long ago and was told that city staff would "look at" the idea. Guess they finally decided to go with it. Other cities have implemented forms like this so I'm not sure why it took so long for Grand Forks to follow suit. Doesn't the city actually want all the streetlights in town to work? Sometimes when I drive around town, I get the feeling the answer is no. Still, I'm glad to see the city has added the ability for citizens to report problems like these. A city should have working streetlights and walkable sidewalks and the 53,000 (or so) people who live in Grand Forks should be a pretty good "patrol" for spotting problems.

As far as my concerns with the forms...

First, the design of the forms is all wrong. Take a look at the streetlight repair request form. Why should a citizen have to provide their name and even their phone number in order to get a burnt out streetlight bulb replaced? Does the city really have to call the resident to talk about the bulb? A burnt out bulb is a burnt out bulb...that's the end of the story. If the city wants to get back to the citizen, why not ask for an email address? That would be a much easier method for both parties. Next, why is there such a detailed section about your address? Does the city think that citizens should only be using the form to report problems with the streetlight(s) directly in front of their house? What about all of the burnt out lights on major thoroughfares? Can't citizens report problems in those areas? Maybe I'm wrong, but it kind of seems to me like this form was designed to elicit the least possible number of requests possible. It could be set up to be much more user friendly and in a way so that citizens could easily report problems they see in any part of town...not just on their own block.

My other problem with the form? So far, the only request that I submitted has not been fixed and, when I check the status of the request, it is constantly listed as "Pending". When did I submit the request? A couple of weeks ago. That's too long, in my opinion.

It seems to me like the city put about as much thought and effort into designing these forms as they did into the overall look of their "revamped" website. Try a little harder next time, ok?