Friday, March 31, 2006

Vote GrandForksGuy in ‘06

Today is a very special is the day that I announce my candidacy for the Grand Forks City Council. No one has stepped up yet to announce a run for the council elections taking place this June, so I have the pleasure of being the first person to throw my hat into the ring. I will run on the anti-pothole ticket so I should have plenty of support in this fine city. If you, my fellow citizens and loyal readers of GrandForksLife, should be so kind as to vote me into office this summer, I have no doubt that we shall carry this all the way through to the Mayor’s office in 2008. Won't you join hands with me? Won't you share in my dream for the future? I humbly ask for your vote this June in the election. Together, we can shape this place of excellence into a truly Grand Forks. Vote GrandForksGuy!!!

Oh, and by the way...(slightly early) April fools!

The state of our city's streets

The spring thaw has brought with it countless potholes throughout Greater Grand Forks. City crews seem to be doing a fairly good job of working on the problem areas, but the current state of some streets in Grand Forks has got me to thinking. Why can't we get more streets in this city repaired before they get to the point where they are littered with potholes? The city has done a good job of reconstructing several major streets in the past decade (Washington Street and the intersection of Columbia Road/32nd Avenue South) and there have been new streets built like 42nd Street. Still, there are many areas in town that are in desperate need of work. I have seen the list of upcoming street projects that are slated for over the next few years and, while some of the problem areas are slated for reconstruction, other don't even appear on the list. Here are a few examples...

North 42nd Street from University Avenue to Gateway Drive - I still don't understand why this stretch wasn't reconstructed when the rest of 42nd Street was put in a few years ago, but I have an even harder time understanding why there seems to be no effort to repair it now. This street is like a washboard. Whenever I drive down it, I feel like I'm in an old jalopy, even though I'm in a newish car that is usually very smooth.

University Avenue overpass at I-29 - This roadway is so broken up (and so narrow and unprotected in the first place) that it really isn't even very safe. I know reconstructing overpasses is a very costly endeavor, but I can't think of an overpass that needs it more than this one.

32nd Avenue from I-29 to Columbia Mall - This is our newest and fastest growing retail area, but the city appears to have no plans for rebuilding this broken up stretch of 32nd Avenue anytime soon. I think it is a shame to have all of these brand new buildings sitting on a very old, very broken up road.

I don't know why the city can't put more of an effort into repairing these and other problem areas in our city's infrastructure. Infrastructure - like streets and overpasses - are crucial to both quality of life and growth.

Any other problem areas you wish the city would take care of one of these days?

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The State of the City: City of Choice

KNOX's Dakota Huseby has managed to get a hold of the draft for tomorrow's State of the City address by Mayor Brown. Check it out here.

I've read the the text of the speech and it looks pretty good. Several interesting sections popped out at me...

Our latest population estimates from the Metropolitan Planning Organization exceed 53,000. This is up nearly 4% from just a couple of years ago, and has surpassed our previous peak of a pre-flood 52,500. My goal of 60,000 in 2010 is within reach.

Working together, it is also possible for our community to develop a signature winter experience or series of events in the Greenway. Structured around a stretch of the Greenway in the downtown area, Greenway staff is in the early workings of an idea for a winter playground with facilities to host snow boarding, hockey, skating paths, tobogganing, curling and ice fishing. With the partnership of various community entities and organizations, I believe these facilities will not only promote yearlong activity in the Greenway but will open the door for a signature winter experience, including a Sertoma Fourth of July-like set of events for our community, the region and visitors.

I propose one way to strengthen our relationship is to have an official UND presence Downtown. We have students living, working and playing Downtown – this is wonderful – what we need now are students learning Downtown. I will be asking President Kupchella to ask his long-range planners and facility personnel to work with our staff to develop an off campus UND site, located in the Downtown area that will stimulate a new spectrum of opportunities and partnerships between the community and campus.

I’d like the community to have a conversation about increasing the pay of City Council positions. This could say thank you for a job well done but, more importantly, it could open the position to more people. I have to be perfectly clear this has no reflection on the ability of current members, but perhaps the stay-at-home mom or dad, a retired person or a young person starting out would be more willing and able to serve if the sacrifice was softened.

There are two types of communities these days. Those who have seen their glory days and have slipped into listless decline. And those who are driving in the other direction, poised for greatness, with the best days ahead. Grand Forks’ best days are ahead.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Downtown observations

A couple of Downtown-related observations...

The new Third Street Gallery in Downtown Grand Forks has a new website...check it out. I still haven't had a chance to visit the gallery yet, but I have driven by and it looks quite nice. It is in the old Novel Ideas/Dr. Elliot's Twice Told Tales space. Great to see the gallery open up and nice to see they have a decent website.

When I drove through downtown this afternoon I couldn't help but notice everything that is going on or that will be underway shortly. We have the new Third Street Gallery now open, The Toasted Frog and Dakota Harvest Bakers opening soon, Joe Black's soon taking over the old Joe DiMaggio's Sports Cafe space, the beautiful Opera House Lofts nearing completion, construction starting soon on the new townhouses on North Third Street, and the new Dakota Block apartments coming before too long. Also, there is the potential for much more development coming soon to the area including new apartments and condos in the St. John's Block and the old Griffith's Department Store, a new gallery in the St. John's Block, a new restaurant opening up on the first floor of the Opera House, and the possibility of more retail development throughout the area. Lots going on!

Thursday, March 23, 2006

New poll: Columbia Mall food court

Out with the old and in with the new. It's time for a new poll question. Click here to see the results from the previous poll: Which grocery store in Grand Forks will suffer the most from the Wal-Mart SuperCenter? I wasn't too surprised to see the top vote getter: Super One at 43% of the vote. This is the closest grocery store to Wal-Mart so it is reasonable to see it hurting the most from the new SuperCenter. By the way, Super One got my vote in the poll. If I were Super One, I would be a bit nervous. Leevers got 30% and Hugos got 17%. Amazing Grains and SuperTarget each only got 3% of the vote. It is hard to imagine the new SuperCenter hurting a grocery store like Amazing Grains, but it is interesting that so few of you think SuperTarget will experience any damage. Good news for Target! The "other" option got 3% as well...what "other" grocery store is there in Grand Forks?

So, here is the new poll question: What type of restaurant would you most like to see added to the new Columbia Mall food court? The Dakota Cafe food court has been doing quite well in its first few months of operation, but there are still several empty spots for more restaurants. What would you most like to see fill up one of those spots? Go vote!

Update - 4/1/2006
The Taco Del Mar Mexican restaurant chain is interested in opening three to four locations in Grand Forks over the next couple of years. One part of town that they are interested in is Columbia Mall's food court. Seems like they would be a fine addition to Dakota Cafe. They also are interested in having a restaurant in the UND neighborhood. This chain sounds similar to Qdoba or Chipotle. It's new to North Dakota, but there are plans to open locations throughout the state.

The coming of UAVs

A high profile "Action Summit on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles" (UAVs) was held in Grand Forks on Wednesday at UND's Clifford Hall. Read about it in today's Herald. The event brought out local, state, federal, military, and business dignitaries including North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan who spoke at the summit. It's still unclear of just how big of an impact the coming installation of a fleet (or fleets) of UAVs at Grand Forks Air Force Base will effect the local economy, but the mood at Wednesday's summit appeared to be that there will definitely be a major impact.

Senator Dorgan and others seem to think that there is the very real possibility of large aircraft manufacturers moving some of their operations to Grand Forks. The future of aviation appears to be in UAVs and Grand Forks, with the presence of the prestigious UND aerospace school and the coming UAVs at the GFAFB, is in a prime spot to capitalize on that growth. The word going around the summit was that, within five to ten years, there could be many, many, many UAV related jobs in the Grand Forks area...potentially in the thousands.

Grand Forks has tried to land a major new employer or sector of employers for years. The potential of UAV-related business could be the catalyst that the city has been waiting for for so long. Apparently, there have already been interested companies that have started looking at Grand Forks. UAVs offer Grand Forks with the potential for major economic growth and many good paying jobs in the near future. I'm glad to see Senator Dorgan and other leaders have the foresight to hold meetings on this important subject.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Fargo Forum to buy Grand Forks Herald?

Big changes could be in store for the Grand Forks Herald. Over the weekend, Herald parent company Knight Ridder was purchased by the Sacramento-based McClatchy Company. Knight Ridder has been on the auction block for some time, which has lead Herald employees to be a bit concerned over the paper's future as well as their employment. It looks like this isn't a good time for them to stop worrying. Shortly after the Knight Ridder purchase was announced, McClatchy stated that they intend to sell of a dozen of Knight Ridder's newspapers including the Herald. Apparently, McClatchy doesn't think these twelve papers have much potential for growth or for making them a bunch of money. So, the Grand Forks Herald, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the Aberdeen American News, and the Duluth News Tribune are among the twelve papers that McClatchy wants to ditch.

This leaves many unanswered questions. Who is going to want to buy the Herald now if it is so "worthless" in the eyes of McClatchy? I can see two potential outcomes. Perhaps a buyer would want to purchase the Herald, the Pioneer Press, and the other regional papers and make a new regional chain of newspapers. However, a much more likely outcome would see Fargo Forum parent company Forum Communications adding the Herald to their already impressive regional lineup. In fact, an article in today's Duluth News Tribune states that Knight Ridder CEO Tony Ridder says that there is a "family-owned investment group" which has expressed interest in buying the Herald and the other regional papers in question. As the Duluth News Tribune article suggests, that interested party is almost certainly Forum Communications.

It's going to be interesting to see what happens next...

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Meet Joe Black

The Joe DiMaggio's Sports Cafe downtown is apparently getting a new owner and a new name. The city council is being asked to approve the transfer of the liquor license from Joe Dimaggio's to Joe Black's Bar and Grill. Joe DiMaggio's has always had great food, but their business has dropped of dramatically since when they first opened. Seems like there is so much changing downtown lately!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Time for another poll question!

I'm changing the Grand Forks Life poll again. You can click here to view the results from the previous poll question ("What would you most like to see attached to the new Canad Inns hotel/waterpark complex?"). A cinema topped the poll as the most wished for attraction at 41%. An outlet mall received 29% of the vote and a museum got 21%. A wellness center got just 3% of the total. The "Other" option stands at 6%. I'm not suprised to see that a cinema was the most desired attraction. This is the component that we were first introduced to when Canad Inns made their initial proposal some time back. There has been some question as to whether Canad Inns may seek another attraction to replace the cinema component, but I have heard that Canad is still in negotiations with at least one cinema company. Guess we'll have to wait and see.

The new question is "Which grocery store in Grand Forks will suffer the most from the Wal-Mart SuperCenter?". Happy voting!

Monday, March 06, 2006

Wal-Mart adding 200-240 jobs

As work continues on the Grand Forks Wal-Mart to turn it into a Wal-Mart SuperCenter by this summer, word on the street is that the store is looking to fill between 200 and 240 new positions. A lot of these jobs will probably be in the grocery department of the store, but all departments should be getting additional employees. Nice to see more jobs coming to town. I know that there are plenty of people out there who have bad feelings about Wal-Mart, but they do provide jobs to a lot of people. A city like Grand Forks needs all types of jobs and it's great to see more employment opportunities out there.

Canad Inns "groundbreaking" on Wednesday

---Breaking News---
Groundbreaking for the Canad Inns hotel tower and entertainment complex will take place this Wednesday (March 6) at 3 P.M. I'm sure almost everyone is probably aware that ground was actually first "broken" a month or two ago. However, Wednesday will signal the official kickoff of construction and will feature the "gold shovel" ritual. Officals at the ceremony will include Grand Forks Mayor Michael Brown, Canad Inns president Leo Ledohowski, and North Dakota Governor John Hoeven. This has been a long time in coming!

Friday, March 03, 2006

130 more jobs likely coming to Grand Forks

LM Glasfiber, the Danish manufacturer of wind turbines with a factory located right here in Grand Forks, is working on a deal to bring 130 more jobs to their local workforce. The company wants to expand into unused space in the building in the industrial park. You might remember that Amazon rearranged their local operations a while back by closing down their distribution center and expanding their call center (the changes resulted in a net increase of jobs). Amazon doesn't need so much empty space anymore and LM Glasfiber would like to takeover that unused space. Thus, LM Glasfiber wants to operate out of their existing facility and expand into the nearby Amazon building. A deal is being worked out with the city (which owns the Amazon building). The average starting wage at LM Glasfiber is $12...not amazing, but not shabby either. Great to see more employment opportunities opening up!

Thursday, March 02, 2006

New gallery opens downtown

Apparently, there is a new art gallery in downtown Grand Forks. Read about the Third Street Gallery in Friday's Dakota Student. It sounds like a pretty small space to me, but it is nice to see more places opening up downtown. Too bad we don't have a big gallery down there. I have heard talk of putting some sort of gallery on the first floor of the St. John's Block. That would potentially be a much larger gallery. Guess we'll have to see what the new owners of that building have planned.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The casino proposal: gambling with our quality of life

I've never really talked about it in Grand Forks Life, but I think I better mention it since discussion of it seems to be everywhere these days. So here goes: as the proposal stands now, I am against having a casino in Grand Forks. At the same time, I cringe at the tactics of many of the casino foes.

Grand Forks should be a destination city. However, attractions that seek to fulfill the "destination" status shouldn't detract from the existing culture and quality of life in Grand Forks that the community has been building for the last century. A casino does bring at least a small increase in crime and addiction...almost all reports and studies show that. Other attractions that have been added in the last few years (Alerus Center, The Ralph, Kingswalk, Grand Forks Marketplace, Greenway, Canad Inns) have not brought similar negative aspects. I guess people can become addicted to golfing...but isn't being addicted to gambling a whole lot worse and doesn't it take a much heavier toll on the community? Or how about crime? Where is the crime that the Grand Forks Marketplace or the Alerus Center have brought to town? They haven't brought any. The existing attractions only better the community...they don't detract from it.

At the same time, shame on local casino foes for mixing their opposition up with conservative Christian politics. A liberal, non-religious person can be just as against the casino as a local Baptist minister. The casino foes should leave their religion at home when they seek to thwart the proposal. There are plenty of arguments to be made against the casino that don't involve the Bible or the Ten Commandments.

Face it...although a casino might bring a few more people to the city and a few more jobs (likely minimum wage or slightly better), the baggage that it brings along with it would far outweigh any positives.

I love seeing Grand Forks get new businesses or attractions. That's why it is so unusual that I'm against having a casino in town. The fact of the matter is that a casino might sound like an enticing opportunity, but in the long run, I feel that it would simply lower the hard-earned quality of life in Grand Forks and would actually discourage new residents and businesses. A casino is not the kind of business that the city of Grand Forks should seek or welcome. Gambling is risky and the city shouldn't gamble on our quality of life.