Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Wanted: a skyline

After reading through all of these comments about what downtown Grand Forks is missing, I have to point out another element that Grand Forks lacks: a skyline. If you weren't overly familiar with Grand Forks and you took a drive down Washington Street, you could simply pass DeMers Avenue by and never realize that you were bypassing the city's core. Certainly no downtown building is currently able to be seen by motorists on I-29. I believe that Grand Forks needs at least a few few taller buildings in our downtown area that, when viewed from a distance, make a recognizable Grand Forks skyline.

I feel that Grand Forks lacks anything that could be remotely called a skyline. Currently, the only taller buildings we have in town are the State Mill, the Canad Inn, and Columbia Towers. Downtown Grand Forks is seriously lacking in anything over a few stories tall. I don't consider a true skyline to be a couple of 10+ story buildings a few miles apart from each other. I would like to see a concentrated cluster of taller buildings located in our city's heart.

It is true that we live in a part of the world where land is abundant, but that doesn't mean we should only continue to push out horizontally while essentially ignoring vertical growth. Although it is nothing like the skylines of Minneapolis or even Winnipeg, downtown Fargo has a few taller buildings that could effectively be considered a skyline of sorts. Why shouldn't Grand Forks - a city which I personally like to consider the most "metropolitan" in the state - have a city skyline too?

When I talk about a skyline, I'm not necessarily talking about such terribly tall buildings. Ideally, I think a cluster of a few buildings in the 10-20 story range would be a perfect skyline for downtown Grand Forks. Perhaps, farther off in the future, we could even have a 25 or 30 story building downtown. I also think that any taller buildings constructed downtown should be architecturally interesting and recognizable as "Grand Forks landmarks" for years to come...our own little versions of the Foshay Tower or IDS Center.

Who would build these buildings and what would occupy them? Keep in mind that I'm not talking about 50 story office towers functioning as corporate headquarters...I'm talking something more along the lines of 10 to 20 story mixed-use buildings filled mainly with apartments or condos. There seems to be plenty of interest in living downtown these days...perhaps developers could consider constructing taller residential buildings than what has currently been done with developments like the new Elite Brownstones or the Current Apartments. I really think residential buildings would probably be the easiest sell for taller buildings downtown. Currently, there are plenty of empty commercial spaces downtown, but I believe that there are usually very few empty apartments or condos.

Next comes the question of where exactly to build the types of buildings that I'm talking about. I've said it before and I'll say it again...there are very few empty lots downtown for any type of development approaching a larger scale. I really think the boundaries of what we think of as downtown need to be pushed out a bit to accommodate growth like I'm talking about. With all of the destruction that was a result of the flood and fire, who wants to see any further buildings razed downtown? Unless we want to lose more historic buildings to the wrecking ball, we need to make sure more space is made available on the outskirts of downtown for development. I agree with those who have stated that no buildings under a certain number of stories should really be allowed to be constructed downtown.

I'm not saying that we should expect to see a number of taller buildings rising out of downtown any time soon. I merely think that establishing a skyline and ultimately encouraging more compact, dense growth is something that we should be seriously looking at. I believe that considerations should be made and plans should be drawn up for building the Grand Forks skyline of tomorrow. A true city needs a skyline and I want to eventually see a Grand Forks skyline that I can be proud of.

40 comments:

Elucidarian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Elucidarian said...

"It is true that we live in a part of the world where land is abundant, but that doesn't mean we should only continue to push out horizontally while essentially ignoring vertical growth"

I had a girlfriend from the Williston area that expressed how disgusted Western North Dakotans can be toward Easterners' waste of good farmland. She better appreciated the value of land than we do, with our ever-expanding cities.

BTW, I just saw the beginnings of what must be the end for that unique remnant of field just east of Altru, across the coulee. It's been surrounded by residential growth for several years and now there's a straight swath through the corn stalks that looks ominously like a road. Is that the case?

Anonymous said...

GFG, I doubt there will ever be enough demand for a "skyline" in Grand Forks in your lifetime.

Regarding population, the city picks up about 1% growth every 5 years. Right? So, how could that ever equate to enough demand for numerous buildings 10 stories+ each?

I would cite my source for G.F. population but the source also produces evidence that Grand Forks has a "much" higher crime rate than the rest of the state. It also shows evidence that the county has LOST population the last five years.

Anonymous said...

I think the lack of "buildable" land downtown may actually bode well for mid-rise residential development in the future. As downtown grows in popularity, it will force developers to grow UP.

Anonymous said...

Grand Forks is NOT a "big city", but we act like one too often. We continue to play "keeping up with the Jones" with Fargo, a city almost twice our size. No wonder our taxes are so high.

Anonymous said...

Grand Forks: Flat Land, Flat City.

Anonymous said...

Not sure what points either of the previous two bloggers are trying to make.

1. Winnipeg and Twin Cities aren't flat?

2. As for comparison with Fargo, How has GF overextended itself to keep up with the Joneses, with the possible exception of Alerus?

Anonymous said...

Fargo's a big city. Who knew? I guess it's all relative.

Anonymous said...

...a city which I personally like to consider the most "metropolitan" in the state

Heh...you haven't been to Fargo lately, have you?

Kidding.

But really, I think Grand Forks should aspire to be something of it's own. A skyline would do that, but I really think focusing on what's already popular is even more important...outdoor sports, quaint neighborhoods, and just drawing in more businesses in general.

People follow jobs, developers follow people. Why else would developers be building two monstrous master planned developments in SW Fargo and S Moorhead?

Anonymous said...

If you're really into development planning talk, I suggest reading this:
http://www.cityoffargo.com/CityInfo/Downtown/FrameworkPlan/

It's a bit old, but most of the key ideas in this plan have been met or have been started already.

Outside looking in said...

Grand Forks will never have a skyline. First of all, you need demand to fill the buildings you dream of. There is already plenty of vacant office space downtown. And I will bet money on the fact that the demand for housing downtown is overestimated.

Second, Grand Forks is not the most metropolitan city in the state. It does, however, like to pretend it is the most metropolitan city in the state. Downtown Grand Forks is full of drunken college students on the weekends. In Fargo, there is a healthy mix of drunken college students and young professionals. There's more live music in Fargo, which reflects a bigger arts scene too. I would agree that Grand Forks feels more like a bigger city than Bismarck, but that is quickly changing.

Grand Forks is not a big city and it will never be. If Grand Forks really wants to prosper, it needs to embrace what it is. It's a pleasant, moderately sized city. There is a fairly strong economy and not a lot of crime. People don't live in Grand Forks in anticipation of it growing into a metropolis with a skyline. They live there because that's what they don't want.

Anonymous said...

Maybe UND can take up some of that rental space in downtown, and maybe build a couple 10 story mixed-use (commercial, educational, office, and residential) buildings. It'll bring more people out there during the day.

Anonymous said...

If you look around downtown, most buildings are 2 to three stories high. A towering building for the sake of having a towering building would look silly and out of place. There's not much to see from the top anyway, unless you're into tracking air pollution from Simplot and American Crystal.

Charlie said...

Some intelligent comments on this thread. It's fun to sample, all the while realizing GFG was simply offering a vision of what could be as a foundation for discussion.
Spending a few moments, driving down Third Street yesterday, I found myself thinking how nice the new apartment complex looks, how well it "fits", and thought how comfortable the downtown area (Third Street, notably) felt, how it beckoned me to get out of the car and walk along the sidewalks.

And I would have---if there were only a few more of those stores that are so often wished for in this blog. I can't help but feel that things are moving in the right direction in downtown.

Musing here...maybe should keep the thoughts private...:o)

Charlie said...

Some intelligent comments on this thread. It's fun to sample, all the while realizing GFG was simply offering a vision of what could be as a foundation for discussion.
Spending a few moments, driving down Third Street yesterday, I found myself thinking how nice the new apartment complex looks, how well it "fits", and thought how comfortable the downtown area (Third Street, notably) felt, how it beckoned me to get out of the car and walk along the sidewalks.

And I would have---if there were only a few more of those stores that are so often wished for in this blog. I can't help but feel that things are moving in the right direction in downtown.

Musing here...maybe should keep the thoughts private...:o)

Charlie said...

Apologies for the double post, too!

Anonymous said...

No apologies necessary. It happens.

And I would have---if there were only a few more of those stores that are so often wished for in this blog. I can't help but feel that things are moving in the right direction in downtown.

I do too, although I haven't been downtown in a while. It will always hold a dear place in my heart. Currently, Fargo holds a much more dearer place in my heart.

I'm a Grand Forks transplant living in Fargo - mostly because of college course offerings and job opportunities here. I enjoy living in downtown Fargo as much as I enjoyed living in downtown grand Forks, but even moreso because we have all the basic essentials here, including a grocery (granted, it's terrible, but staple foods are available at inflated prices).

The music scene is great, the "bar scene" is great too (if you're into that), as well as job prospects.

But still, the reason I read this blog daily in the first place is that fact that someday I hope to come back and help others that share the same vision I have of Grand Forks make that a reality. I think that's why any of us do really.

So yeah, share away.

Anonymous said...

The only 20 story structure in downtown GF will be either a tv tower or cell phone tower. Maybe KTHI channel 11. greenglass4.

Szymanski's Designated Driver said...

okay this drives me nuts, why don't you just put your name as greenglass4 instead of just posting it at the end of every damn comment? and who the hell calls it KTHI anymore?

GrandForksGuy said...

Plenty of interesting comments, guys...keep them coming.

I want to set the record straight on a couple of things here...

First, I'm not talking about going out tomorrow and building a bunch of 20 story buildings downtown. I'm talking about planning for encouraging construction of taller buildings in the future...how far off we are talking about is debatable. Of course developers will not build taller buildings downtown unless there is a demand for them. However, empty spaces are gradually being filled downtown and the area has a residential population that is growing at a steady space. I believe that, over time, there will be plenty of demand downtown for more space...especially residential space...and I believe a cluster of taller buildings would not be out of the question.

I also realize that, considering the fact that most buildings downtown are four stories or less, it would look rather silly to build a ten story building next to a three story one. As I've talked about before, I propose that developers "expand" downtown beyond its current limits. I personally think that building taller buildings on the western fringes of downtown would be a fairly logical place. I would like to first see development in the area just west of 5th Street (currently parking lots and low-rise buildings) and a gradual development pushing farther west in future years. If taller buildings were built on the western fringes of downtown, we could end up with two areas downtown: (1) the older area that we currently think of as downtown which is populated with historic, smaller buildings a few stories tall and (2) a new area dotted with a few mid-rise buildings like what I'm talking about. I think it would look silly to have a ten story building next to a three story building...this is why I would like to see a new section set aside for taller buildings. That way, we could have the best of both worlds - a quaint, "old" area filled with smaller buildings and a "new" area built up a bit taller and denser than the older area. A downtown that encompasses an old area, a new area, and a "skyline" of sorts...sounds pretty good to me.

Again, I realize we're not talking about tomorrow here. It is simply fun to dream...and sometimes smart.

j said...

Scattering the Columbia Towers, Canad Inns, Altru, and the State Mill hurt that downtown "skyline". I think if these structures weren't build around the city, they would fit perfectly in the heart of downtown.

If I remember correctly, the city wanted to build the Alerus (Aurora) in the downtown area but worried about flooding problems. If it was indeed constructed downtown, i am guessing we would of saw Canad build downtown.

But there is nothing wrong with constructing taller buildings around town. Most of the time you see taller buildings along freeways just like the Canad Inns sits. And you can pick out the Columbia Towers from the interstate as well.

Anonymous said...

Most of the time you see taller buildings along freeways just like the Canad Inns sits. And you can pick out the Columbia Towers from the interstate as well.

As well as the ND Mill if you're north of Gateway Drive

PartTime said...

I have addressed this in the past, here and elsewhere so I'm not going to get into it in length. Grand Forks though is full of 2, 3 and 4 story brick buildings, I've wondered why taller buildings didn't go up when the opportunity was there....i.e Alerus Financial after the flood, the new condos and apts going up in Grand Forks now, two good examples right there. When the city first informed the people of the cond's/apts going up downtown and had the drawings in the paper of what they were going to look like, I e-mailed our city councilman and told him that the city should be looking at a highrise instead of a two and four story buildings, but, it seems their minds were made up and it was already in motion.

Anonymous said...

Part of the reason the Brownstones were the size they were is to accomodate two parking spots per unit. Most people have one to two cars, so this would eliminate on street parking for those that live in the Brownstones.

Anonymous said...

Part of the reason the Brownstones were the size they were is to accomodate two parking spots per unit. Most people have one to two cars, so this would eliminate on street parking for those that live in the Brownstones.

Anonymous said...

While I would have preferred high-rise buildings to occupy the Brownstones and Current properties, I don't think the the business climate was right when they were being planned. If they knew then, what they know now, they probably would have built taller. On the other hand, we have two very attractive additions to downtown...unlike the drive-up Gate City Bank, which some blogger aptly compared to building a new single-family house downtown.

Anonymous said...

Grand Forks should increase densities, but it does not need highrises downtown. Some of the most charming cities around the country (and the world) are places that lack high-rises. Burlington, VT, for example, does not have highrises, but it still has a thriving downtown. Even Portland, OR which has almost 2 million people in the metro, I think the tallest building in the city is 35 stories, and people love that downtown.

People generally like low-slung buildings (6 to 8 stories). It's more charming, human-scale, and creates a better feeling of community. People do not like living, walking, or working in the shadows of big, tall, austere buildings. Furthermore, if high-rises were built along the edge of downtown, where are these people going to park, and what is going to happen to some of the last remnants of the affordable housing stock in the city? Not everyone of modest means wants to live in one of those shoddily built apartment complexes that are sprouting up everywhere in town. Finally, the benefits of gentrification are really overblown by people who have interests in intensifying landuse. To me gentrified neighborhoods are the urban form of a gated community in the suburbs.

PartTime said...

While I will agree with you that not all people want highrises and are content with 6 to 8 story buildings, the logic to building a two story condo building in the middle of downtown makes little sense to me. While some are happy/content with Grand Forks slow to moderate growth and with it's small townish looks i.e happy face water tower (sorry GFG) and the new parking format taking place in the downtown area, I assure you, others are not.

Anonymous said...

I believe that, over time, there will be plenty of demand downtown for more space...especially residential space...and I believe a cluster of taller buildings would not be out of the question.

Agreed.

Grand Forks should increase densities, but it does not need highrises downtown.

Also agreed, but mostly on the first part.

Increasing density usually leads to building that serve the demand of the area. This also comes with building incredibly expensive homes out in the suburbs. A good example is the Radisson tower in Fargo, which is only partly a hotel. The rest of the building is law offices, a TV station, a development company (or two actually), and various other white collar type businesses that enjoy having a view and can afford it.

I really do think if UND made its presence known downtown, you would eventually see buildings of this size and scale mentioned being built by developers much sooner. Residential and commercial evenly.

Anonymous said...

What's so great about fast growth? It generally just leads to traffic congestion, bloated home prices, higher taxes, and overcrowded schools.

Anonymous said...

Although ultimately, residential structures will have to be built first. Some developer may have to take a gamble and just build upwards at some point. And I do believe that they should be entitled to some pretty heavy tax breaks in this situation, because they are providing housing for a need that may not already be there (I might be wrong), and giving GF the skyline it needs to draw attention towards downtown.

Anonymous said...

Improving the eyesore which is Gilly's would draw welcome attention downtown, too.

Even the Plain Brown Wrapper looks good by comparison.

PartTime said...

What's so great about fast growth? It generally just leads to traffic congestion, bloated home prices, higher taxes, and overcrowded schools.


Well, for one thing, it's usually a sign of a good economy. Your way of thinking which you expressed in your comments are obviously shared by our city leaders. I look at comparitive cities such as Bismarck, St. Cloud, Fargo, etc.....those cities make things happen. Grand Forks, well, Grand Forks watches things happen and then wonders what happened.

GrandForksGuy said...

I'm fairly pleased with the height of the Current Apartments. The are already looking nice and the massing seems to be similar to adjacent buildings.

I like the look of the Elite Brownstones and really appreciate what they bring to downtown, but I think they really would have fit in better if they were taller. A three or four story project would have been nice.

The Gate City building is very nice looking, but belongs on 32nd Avenue...not downtown. It is a terrible shame that this building wasn't built taller.

Anonymous said...

The Gate City building is very nice looking, but belongs on 32nd Avenue...not downtown. It is a terrible shame that this building wasn't built taller.

Exactly the point.

It really, while being a nice building, should have definitely been built far far away from downtown. The site is inherently made for higher level development, and as stated again and again, should have been developed as such.

I don't doubt the fact that GF should have some taller buildings, as they represent needs and growth, strength of economy and support of necessity. It will come, but it might not be soon. Give it time though; it will come.

I do think patience is a virtue that Grand Forks has alot of.

The city waited 35+ years to get an events center (read the book by Mike Polovitz sometime). He pushed for the events center to make GF a center of growth. It finally came, but now has a hard time making ends meet for the building. It's te same way for the rest of the city.

We plan to big, and shoot to high sometimes, but overall, the growth follows the building projects that precede it.

Anonymous said...

has anyone really looked at that Gate City site? it really isn't big enough to handle a high-density development. There is the building and a small parking lot there. Truly, they should have bought the other low-density buildings around it and build something fitting there, but the site itself just is too small

Anonymous said...

I'm glad the Gate City Bank is on Demers. This way I don't have to travel all the way across town from EGF to deposit a paycheck.

Anonymous said...

We can't have a tall skyline because of the wet soil in the Valley. It won't hold a tall building.

GrandForksGuy said...

We've probably all heard that before, but I've never heard a definitive answer...is this true? Has a study been done to determine the maximim building height our soil can support?

Anonymous said...

Once upon a time...the red river valley was covered by a huge lake that slowly disappeared....that is why we are so flat and have such fertile soil.

Taller buildings usually require foundation pillers that need to rest on top of the bedrock for support....here in the Red River Valley the bed rock is exceptionally deep under the surface....building a 15 or 20 story building would be very costly and unlikely....ergo no satisfying skyline.
-Mark...skyscraper fanatic