Saturday, September 30, 2006

Local economy: not too shabby, eh?

Ralph Kingsbury's monthly look at the economy is in today's Herald...take a look at it. I always enjoy Mr. Kingsbury's insight.

Some interesting sections:

There is about a 30 percent increase in the permit value of single-family dwellings, and a 25 percent increase in townhouses. Both bode well for Grand Forks to continue to see an increase in population, the single most important factor in long-run growth.

I believe it is fair to conclude that Grand Forks has seen a significant increase in Canadian traffic and that the Alerus and Englestad play a major part in the Grand Forks economy.

I read about several new commercial buildings, including a major big box furniture store, and at least one new restaurant. Stories are interesting and exciting, but it is shovels in the ground that count.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Last day for Hansen Ford?

I can't verify this, but I have recieved word that today may be the last day that Hansen Ford of Grand Forks will operate under the "Hansen" name. Supposedly, they will close this afternoon and remain closed until next Wednesday when they will reopen under the new "Lithia Ford" name.

Thanks again to my source!

Update - 9/30/2006 - 3:45 AM
The change of ownership from Hansen Ford to Lithia Ford is now "official."

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


You might have noticed that Grand Forks Life looks a little different. That's because I have been moving from Blogger over to the new Blogger Beta. Eventually, all users of Blogger will have to move their blogs over to Blogger Beta. I wanted to make the move early because I think that this version of Blogger has many new featues that I wanted to be able to use.

Managing and updating the template of my blog will now be much easier and quicker. Also, the blog is supposed to load much faster and that's always a plus. The most exciting thing for me is the "label" featue which I will soon be implementing. This will allow me to add "labels" to each post to categorize it. That way, a reader will be able to bring up all of my posts about the Alerus Center, the local economy, city politics, or any one of a number of different topics. This will take a while to complete since I'll have to go back and attach labels to all of the posts that I have put here since last October.

I ask you guys to bring to my attention any problems you see with the website or anything you would like changed (fonts, colors, etc.). Also, I always encourage ideas for making my blog better and more interesting. Let me know what you think!

Wet Seal coming to Columbia Mall

Wet Seal, a women's clothing store, will soon be opening a Grand Forks location near the center court of Columbia Mall. The store will be in the space formerly occupied by Casual Corner. There is also a Wet Seal in Fargo's West Acres mall.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

New poll: how long have you read this blog?

Time to change the Grand Forks Life poll again. I've been pretty lazy and you've been stuck with the same poll for too long...sorry! Still, this way I got a very large reponse to the poll question (108 votes).

Closing the old poll...
The old poll question was "What do you think about chain stores and restaurants in downtown Grand Forks?" and you can check out the results. Overall, most readers don't seem to have anything against a few chains possibly coming to the downtown area in the future. "Bring them on!" got 44% (47 votes), "Maybe a few..." got 31% (33 votes), "Not one!" got 24% (26 votes), and 2% (just 2 voters) were undecided. In other words, 75% of voters thought that a chain or two downtown wouldn't be that big of a deal. In fact, some of you (including me) seem to think that a couple of chain stores and restaurants might be just the thing to bring more activity downtown. My vote? Let's start with a Starbucks and then maybe add a sit-down restaurant or two.

Opening the new poll...
The new poll question is "In what month would you estimate you first visited this blog?". Why am I asking this? Well, the one year birthday of Grand Forks Life is coming up on October 4th and I'm curious how long you guys have been reading this blog. I know it might be hard to remember the exact month you first visited me so just make a rough estimate.

Wal-Mart Supercenter almost done

The new Grand Forks Wal-Mart Supercenter is nearing completion. The remodeling/conversion of the old Wal-Mart store into the expanded format is almost done and the grand opening is scheduled for October 18. Shelves in the new grocery section are being stocked with dry goods and some frozen food has started to arrive.

The Grand Forks store will be the largest Wal-Mart Supercenter in the state and will feature a complete grocery store, expanded departments throughout the store, a tire and lube express, and several tenant spaces.

I know many of my readers are anything but fans of Wal-Mart. In fact, it seems like even a mere mention of Wal-Mart results in a red-hot comment section...popular topic. So for all of you haters out there, no I'm not such a big fan of Wal-Mart. I actually shop at Target much more. I just think that if we are going to have a Wal-Mart in Grand Forks, it is nice to have it remodeled and updated. And by the way, will you really feel sorry for Hugo's if they have to lower prices on a few items? I know I won't!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Hansen Ford to become Lithia Ford?

In case you haven't been following the comments under the "Subaru partnership" post, take a moment to scan through them. It sounds like Hansen Ford either has been or will soon be sold. Good Ol' Boy is saying that he has heard the new owner will be an out of state chain of car dealers known as "Lithia". So, we can probably expect to hear something soon about Hansen Ford becoming "Lithia Ford".

Thanks to Good Ol' Boy for providing this information. His comment was the first I had heard of this Lithia chain.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

"Large entertainment center" in the works?

I've heard rumors lately of a development eyeing a location on Gateway Drive near University Village. The rumors have some sort of "large entertainment center" being constructed near the former site of the Westward Ho complex. What I've been hearing is that the site that is being looked at for this development is the land where the derelict Transport Incorporated and Weekley's Auto buildings currently stand. You may remember that these buildings are slated for demolition in the near future. It seems that the owners of those buildings may want to tear down their properties so they can sell them to the developers of this new complex.

As far as what a "large entertainment center" is, I'll let you be the judge. Maybe some re-incarnation of the Westward Ho? The old Westward Ho motel recently changed hands and the new owners may be in on the plans for the new development. Perhaps the complex might include a brand new hotel? There does seem to be a desire to have a hotel closer to Engelstad Arena, but would anyone really want to build a new hotel just east of the Simplot factory?

I would love to see this area redeveloped. The buildings on this site are ugly and have long outlived their usefulness. A new commercial development of this potential magnitude might be just the ticket for starting the cleanup of Gateway Drive once and for all.

Remember, this is still just a rumor as far as I'm concerned. Still, I've heard plenty of talk of this and I've even heard that there has been some discussion of this amongst city staff. I guess time will tell.

Subaru partnership

Grand Auto Mart will soon start selling Subaru cars in a partnership with Ward Muscatell Subaru of Moorhead.

Does this mean that we can forget about that new Subaru dealership south of the Big Sioux Travel Plaza we've been hearing about? If so, that's a shame. It would have been nice to see a brand new car dealership out there.

Update - 9/19/2006 - 10:15 AM
BTW, has anybody heard anything further on the rumored sale of Hansen Ford?

Update - 9/28/2006 - 11:28 AM
Grand Auto Mart is being renamed "Grand Subaru".

Another furniture store for Grand Forks

You probably remember when I broke the story a while back about the new Ashley Furniture/Furniture Outlets USA store coming to Grand Forks. Now it looks like another national furniture store chain has plans for a Grand Forks location.

A chain called Furniture Row is planning a new store directly south of Lowe's. The new store will be just off of I-29. The company hopes to start construction yet this fall. The previously mentioned furniture store also intends to start their building this fall and open next spring. It looks like that by sometime next year, Grand Forks residents should have plenty of new options when it comes to buying furniture.

Furniture Row locations group together several specialty home and furniture store formats into one unified shopping center. Potential store formats in Furniture Row centers include Sofa Mart, Oak Express, Bedroom Expressions, and Denver Mattress. Some location include all four formats while others just include one or two of the formats. The chain operates a location in Rapid City that only includes a Denver Mattress store. It's still unclear exactly what kind of a complex they're planning for Grand Forks. However, it appears that most new locations include all four store formats so I'm thinking that this is the type of complex we'll be getting.

At Monday's city council meeting, the Furniture Row development was granted an exception to the city code pertaining to signs. The chain wants to build a monument style sign 25 feet high while code would otherwise only allow a sign 8 feet high. Since this store will be south of the Grand Forks Marketplace, I'm assuming that the new sign will be near the Marketplace's large sign. I'm personally not that fond of having exceptionally large signs in the city limits, but since this sign will be adjacent to the interstate and not a city street I don't think this is anything to get too upset over.

I'm very excited to see more retail growth coming to the city's south side. It seems like we're hearing about new stores and restaurants all of the time. More choices within the city should keep Grand Forks residents shopping here and should bring in shoppers from throughout the region. This is especially true when it comes to furniture stores. As it is, Fargo currently has more choices when it comes to shopping for furniture and some Grand Forks residents make the trip south when they're looking for new furniture. Two major furniture stores coming to Grand Forks should help stop this trend.

BTW, check out JGS's post about the new Furniture Row store.

Update - 9/19/2006 - 10:18 AM
Furniture Row is also planning a new location in Bismarck. That store was first announed back in May, but at that time a spokewoman for the company said "construction wouldn't likely begin until the first quarter of 2007". So if the Bismarck store was announced back in May but construction won't start until early next year, I'm doubting we'll see much work on the Grand Forks location before early 2007 either.

The Bismarck store will carry all four specialty store formats and will be 54,000 square feet.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Bye-bye, Bob

Tu-Uyen is reporting that Ward 1 Grand Forks City Council representative Bob Brooks is taking the job as the new city administrator in East Grand Forks. That means that he will have to move to the Eastside and will have to give up his seat on the council.

So, a (costly) special election will now have to be held to elect a new council member for Ward 1. I'm wondering, is anyone aware of someone who lives in Ward 1 who might make a good candidate for the council? Any names that come to mind?

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Gateway Drive D- Awards

As Tu-Uyen mentioned in his blog, the "Gateway Drive A+ Awards" were recently handed out to two businesses. The awards recognize businesses along the Gateway Drive corridor that have in some way improved the appearance of Gateway Drive - long considered to be the most blighted commercial area of Grand Forks. The winners were The Carpet Garage for exterior renovations to their building and Advance Auto Parts for their newly constructed store.

It's fine to recognize these businesses. They have both made their respective areas of Gateway Drive a little better looking. Still, most of the corridor can only be described as truly ugly. When you think about it, it's unfortunate that we have to actually give out awards to businesses that make improvements to their properties. When was the last time you ever heard of the "Columbia Road A+ Awards" or the "DeMers Avenue A+ Awards"? There would be no reason for such awards. The business communities along those arterials are, for the most part, much more interested in making their properties look as good as they can. The same cannot be said for many in the Gateway Drive business community.

For years, the city has talked about improving the corridor, but in reality it has mainly been just talk. There have been few improvements and the city has pretty much turned a blind eye to the business owners who neglect their properties. Many in the city and in the Gateway business community pretend like "that's what Gateway Drive is for...ugly businesses." I think that's silly. Almost all businesses can be properly taken care of in such a way that their mere presence doesn't feel like an offense to the senses for those who drive by them each day. As it is, we as citizens of Grand Forks are, for the most part, ashamed to have out-of-town visitors travel along Gateway Drive. What a shame.

Again, while it's ok to recognize businesses that truly do make a difference along Gateway Drive, why do we ignore all of those businesses who can never seem to get their act together? Recognizing a few improvements, but ignoring a multitude of neglect...that's really a little too "North Dakota nice" when you think about it.

So, that's why I'm introducing the "Gateway Drive D- Awards". I can personally think of only a few businesses along Gateway Drive worthy of an "A+ Award", but I can think of many that should get a "D- Award".

I'm interested to hear what you guys have to say. Which businesses along Gateway Drive do you feel routinely neglect their properties and make Gateway the black eye on the city of Grand Forks that it currently is? In other words, who would you nominate for a "D- Award"?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Dakota Roar

The Dakota Student has an article in today's paper that mentions a website called Dakota Roar. This is a forum for UND students that was started a few months back.

Nice to see that website get a mention in the paper, but I'm left can we, the bloggers of Grand Forks, get free publicity like this too? Anybody have an in at the Dakota Student?

BTW, is it just me or is it confusing that the address for Dakota Roar is I thought this was a UND forum...why Bison? What's up with that?!?

Saturday, September 09, 2006

An early frost?

Only in North Dakota: 90 degrees on Thursday afternoon and the threat of frost by early Saturday morning.

As I write this, it is 40 degrees and the wind chill is 36. It's still early...I'm sure it's bound to get closer to the magic number of 32 in a few hours. Hopefully you all remembered to cover any plants that you have before you went to bed on Friday night. I just brought in our flower pots...all twenty-some of them.

Still, I can't help admit that I kind of like seeing Fall settling in upon us. I've always loved this time of year. The crisp days, the vibrant leaves. Gee...ain't I the romantic type?

Update - 9/10/2006 - 2:17 AM
On Saturday morning, the low was 40 at the Grand Forks NWS office, 33 at the airport, and 32 at the base. Seven degrees difference from the NWS office to the airport? Is that possible? Maybe this has something to do with urban areas retaining heat more than rural areas?

Friday, September 08, 2006

Newsbits: Prairie Pundit, Herald

Prairie Pundit has made the move over to the Area Voices site. Tu-Uyen Tran did it a few days ago and now Tom Dennis is following suit. Once again, these moves are taking place because Forum Communications, the new owner of the Grand Forks Herald, wants to consolidate all blogs by Forum employees on the Forum's own blogging site. So be sure to change your links to point to the new address for Tom's blog. Good luck to Tom with his new home over at Area Voices!

The Herald seems to be in a rather vigorous mode of expansion. After years of layoffs, the paper has had many ads lately advertising various positions with the company. I think it's great to see the Herald finally able to "spread its wings" instead of always cutting back.

Keeping with my apparent fascination with all things Herald, I see that the paper's At Home monthly magazine is going to be changing to a weekly magazine. They even have a position out for a new editor. Since I like architecture and love seeing inside of other people's homes (especially the historic ones they often show) I always enjoy At Home. Seems like yet another sign that the Herald is growing and expanding into new areas. The Herald's monthly women's magazine also strikes me as something that has lots of growth potential. The Area Woman magazine in Fargo-Moorhead seems to be very popular in that community...perhaps the Herald can use that as a model for their own women's publication.

Ok...enough with all this free advertising for the Herald!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Mac is back

Mike McNamara is back from Iraq and tonight he sat in on his first city council meeting where he was able to be physically present and not just calling in from the desert.

I have the distinct feeling that NcNamara's presence on the council is going to encourage some heated (and probably lengthy) debates. Even tonight, there seemed to be a certain level of tension between McNamara and some of his new colleagues...especially Mayor Brown. Then again, they did buy McNamara that cake with the American flag on it...

What do I think of McNamara's presence on the council? I realize that this was only the first council meeting where he could be physically present, but if tonight is any indicator of what may be to come, I think McNamara could end up being the lone dissenting vote on plenty of council votes. He just seems to be setting himself up as an outsider...something that might sound good during the election, but means something different after the election.

McNamara's seemingly insatiable desire to cut city taxes (without giving much thought to the fact that further cuts may hurt valuable city services) is dangerous and short-sighted, in my opinion. Department heads work hard to trim their respective budgets as much as they feel they can and McNamara's criticism seems like micromanagement...something that I thought McNamara would be against. I also have the nagging feeling that this a drawn-out advertisement for "Mac Talk", but hopefully I'm being too cynical. I guess time will tell.

BTW, did anybody else notice that Mike's name placard on the desk is spelled wrong? It reads McNamera instead of McNamara. Funny.

Update - 9/7/2006 - 12:52 AM
Check out Tu-Uyen's opinions of Mac's presence on the council.

Update - 9/8/2006 - 12:27 AM
I forgot to post this earlier. Check out this audio interview with councilman McNamara from the Say Anything blog.

New Herald website up and running

Take a moment to look at the Grand Forks Herald's new website.

Overall, I'm pretty pleased with the new site. It is almost a carbon copy of the Fargo Forum's website, but I've always liked the Forum's website quite a bit so I'm satisfied that the same template was basically recycled for the Herald. I haven't registered yet.

The only thing that I can immediately say I don't like about the website is the huge ad banner on the top. This is similar to the ad banner found over at the Forum's site. I don't have a problem with a moderate amount of advertising on a website, but why is this ad banner so much bigger than the Herald's logo?

Also, I think the Herald's blogs deserve a more prominent spot. Maybe Tu-Uyen can talk to somebody about that...

Update - 9/7/2006 - 11:25 AM
Could this page with links to about a million news stories be any longer or harder to navigate? I hope the Herald's website guy figures out how to organize the stories a bit better and maybe only show stories from the current day on this page.

Kohl's development coming along nicely

The other night I did a little trespassing. Ok, I guess it wasn't really trespassing. I drove into the parking lot of the new Kohl's store on 32nd Avenue. I parked right in front of the store, got out, and plastered my little face up to the windows of the store. It looks like things are going pretty well in there. The building itself is entirely finished and the store looks totally "fixtured". Now, all that's left is to stock the store...which I'm sure is no small task.

It looks really nice inside and I'm excited that Grand Forks shoppers will be getting yet another shopping option. One less excuse for going to if we could just get an Olive Garden to satisfy Grand Forks' apparently insatiable appetite for over-priced pasta. Kohl's is supposed to open sometime next month.

While I was trespassing in this area, I decided to take a look at the new strip mall being built in front of Kohl's. I parked by it and walked all around it. This is going to be a very nice looking strip mall. I'm impressed with the design of the place. Hopefully some other developers will see that something as simple as a strip mall can look nice and appealing to the eye.

I'm still wondering what all is going to go into the strip mall (and the others being built around town). I've previously mentioned the new "Bobbi's" women's clothing store that is supposed to be moving in and I've been meaning to mention that I hear Computer Renaissance is also planning a move to this strip mall. I'm not quite clear whether or not the new Golden Corral restaurant is going into this strip mall or an as-of-yet-unconstructed free-standing building west of the strip mall. I've heard both potentialities. The southern half of the strip mall does have that portion that sticks off to the west and it is a very large spot...probably large enough for a restaurant. Anybody know if Golden Corral is going to have their own building or if they're going into the strip mall?

I'm excited to see what else might come to some of the vacant land in this whole development. Like I mentioned earlier, Ashley Furniture seems to be planning a new store in this area. I wonder what else might be on the way? This is prime retail real estate.

Monday, September 04, 2006

New Grand Forks Herald site almost here

The long-awaited debut of the new Grand Forks Herald website seems to be suddenly on our doorstep. Sunday's Herald reported that the changeover from the old Knight Ridder website should happen this coming Tuesday afternoon. The article says that the new site will offer more local control over content and overall look.

Good, the old site has been severely lacking for years and has paled in comparison to the Fargo Forum's website. I'm hoping that, since Forum Communications is the new owner of the Herald, they've put some of their people to work on building the new site.

One thing that makes me a little uneasy is the fact that the article states that the new Herald site will require readers to "register" before they're able to access content. That's similar to what the Fargo Forum has done for several years so I'm assuming that's why this is being implemented on the Herald's new site. I'm no big fan of requiring readers to offer up personal information before they're allowed to access your website's content. It seems like just an unnecessary hassle for people trying to read a story or two. Still, I guess it should be just a one-time thing for readers so hopefully it shouldn't be too big of an inconvenience.

I'm intrigued by the article's mention of new partnerships between the Herald and WDAZ. The story also states "There also will be staff weblogs and weblogs from people in the community in Area Voices." Interesting...can we expect other Herald writers to pick up the hobby of blogging? I hope so. I'm happy to see that the Herald doesn't seem to be scared of blogging...which is more than I can say for some other local media outlets.

Overall, I'm very excited to see the advent of a new Herald website. I think a new website, if designed and managed well, could be an excellent asset for the community and a tool for all citizens wanting to keep informed. I'm eagerly waiting for Tuesday afternoon.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

City Beat moves to Area Voices

Tu-Uyen has finally moved his The City Beat blog to Forum Communications' AreaVoices website. I'm sure a similar move for Tom Dennis' Prairie Pundit blog can't be that far off.

I personally have serious reservations about AreaVoices, but this is just a part of the buyout of the Grand Forks Herald by Forum Communications. It seems like Forum thinks they can do better blog hosting than the big guys. Mainly, I'm a little worried that locating a blog at something other than one of the big blogging sites will limit the blog's audience.

Still, I know that I for one won't be visiting The City Beat any less now that it is over at AreaVoices. I hope all of you, the loyal readers of the Grand Forks Blogosphere, will check it out on a regular basis as well. Tu-Uyen does a great job with his blog and he produces a lot of good content. Good luck, Tuey!

BTW, I know I've been very lazy with the blog lately. I've just been a little busier now that college is back in session. I'll try to do better...I promise!

Update - 9/2/2006 - 6:44 PM
Looks like Tu-Uyen has gotten a site feed on The City Beat after all. Because of this, his new posts will show up in my "Grand Forks Blogosphere" box on the left side of this blog just like before.