Monday, October 15, 2007

What is downtown missing?

There has been plenty of development in downtown Grand Forks in the last few years. A number of previously empty buildings are now filled and formerly empty lots have been converted to residential uses. Today, Herald economist Ralph Kingsbury has an interesting opinion piece about downtown's renaissance.

However, the renaissance is not complete. While much has taken place downtown since the flood and fire of 1997, I still often hear sentiments like "Downtown needs (fill in the blank)" or "Wouldn't it be so great to have a (fill in the blank) downtown." I am pleased with how far downtown has come in recent years. However, like most people, I see room for more development and further improvements.

So what do I think downtown needs? One thing that comes to mind first is retail. I feel that a vibrant city center needs to have plenty of choices of where to live, where to work, where to eat, and where to shop. There are now many dining and bar choices for downtown patrons...far more than just a few years ago. New residential developments, like the Elite Brownstones and the Current Apartments, have also been developed at a fairly impressive rate. However, this increase in residential, dining, and entertainment choices downtown has not been matched with an increase in retail choices.

Truthfully, there are very few stores downtown for the average citizen or tourist to shop at. I fully realize that downtown will likely never again see a return of the retail heyday of the past nor will it probably ever be able to compete with 32nd Avenue, but that doesn't mean that there still isn't plenty of room for improvement. I would like to see a variety of stores set up shop downtown.

How do you get small stores to open up downtown when most other retail activity is located in the southern sections of town? I think a few "anchor" stores might do the trick. Just like a shopping mall needs large, anchor stores to bring traffic to the smaller stores, I believe a downtown needs a few larger stores that attract shoppers to the neighborhood. These larger stores wouldn't have to be national chains, but I also don't think we should discourage national retailers from setting up shop downtown. A Borders or a Whole Foods Market would certainly bring shoppers downtown. I think that, along with more shoppers, such stores would also bring more retail establishments to the city's core. I believe that the synergy of a few large stores downtown would create the impetus for a retail renaissance of sorts.

Now, I'm turning it over to you...what do you think downtown needs more of? What types of restaurants? How about stores? Are there different types of residential developments you would like to see downtown? Please, share your thoughts and opinions of how downtown can be made even better than it currently is.

67 comments:

Anonymous said...

I agree that GF needs a Borders or even a better B&N (the campus B&N is a joke). Having it downtown would also be an interesting, but viable place (even though it seems B&N and Borders have a greater interest in freestanding, suburbia locations).

Rick said...

In Chicago, there are Borders all over downtown, and they seemed to be pretty busy. I think a large bookstore downtown would be great and I know that I would be a regular there. Whole Foods would also probably get a big customer base.

Anonymous said...

As a former downtown resident I have felt there lacks a Hugo's Grocery store downtown and also a drug store is needed. The Plain Brown Wrapper in not needed. The police could set up a "store front office" on 3rd street close to Sanders. greenglass4.

ben said...

greenglass...the police dept is literally around the corner from the PBR...hardly a place for a satellite office.
Downtown could use a grocery store imo. Also I think they could use a few chains. I know that this sounds odd, but downtown is full of nice locally owned places. If a few chains set up - retail or restaurants- it could bring in more people to check out what downtown has to offer, then they would see the local places that don't have the money to advertise like the big chain restaurants, stores, etc.

wendian said...

I've always thought a touristy-type shop that rents out bikes, cross country skis, kayaks, canoes, and other outdoor activity equipment would be a real good thing to have downtown. It would be a great thing for visitors, and encourage lots of use of the Greenway and river. It could also double as a sporting store, sort of like a "Ron's Surf Shop" of the great white north :)

Anonymous said...

wendian: excellent suggestion. While people can rent kayaks (only one tandem kayak available) and canoes from UND, the Red River (and even better the REd Lake River) are horribly underutilized when it comes to paddle sports. I can count the number of times I ran into other paddlers on these rivers on one hand this year. I'm surprised Scheels or Cabelas don't sponser some sort of paddle-sport demo. They'd probably sell more stock if people had the chance to try kayaks and canoes out.

-Avid Kayaker dude

dale said...

What downtown needs, and appears to be in the process of getting, is a solid permanent population base, supplemented by a significant daytime presence. Retail isn't going to come in where there isn't an existing market -- "build it and they will come" doesn't really work in this instance.

I like the idea of a Borders Books, as well as the equipment rental place, and both may be good ideas and practical options, as the population, both day and night, returns to downtown.

Anonymous said...

On the subject of a Border's in downtown GF - the one in downtown Minneapolis is looking at closing. They aren't getting enough business from what I've read. The only reason they aren't closed yet is because of their lease. They have to have someone to replace them (not necessarily a bookstore) before they can close up.

GJB

dale said...

Oh, and I concur with the first comment about the UND Barnes & Noble being a joke -- any bookstore that holds those hours (including being closed on Sundays) isn't a serious bookstore.

Liz said...

It would be nice to see more shopping downtown besides the dreaded Cabela's and the specialty stores that are so specialty they become irrelevant, but I really think 2 things are needed to build the area out:

1) A large business that employs a couple hundred people. Can you imagine the lunch business for the restaurants downtown if there were a large business in the area? Lunch meetings, coffee interviews, after work drinks--all of that would really balance out the business the restaurants and bars already have down there.

2) A diner for the after-bar crowd. Not a truck stop, but an honest-to-goodness actual for real diner. I'd love to go downtown more often, and would probably go out down there more often, if there were a place to wind down and sober up before going home. I guess I was spoiled by the big city when I came here, because I was shocked there wasn't such a thing downtown already when I first moved here.

GrandForksGuy said...

Already lots of good comments, guys...keep them coming!

"A large business that employs a couple hundred people. Can you imagine the lunch business for the restaurants downtown if there were a large business in the area?"

Hey, what became of Amazon's plans to potentially move downtown? I think that could work out quite nicely for downtown.

"A diner for the after-bar crowd."

I believe the Third Street Cafe reopens for the after-bar crowd on weekends.

Regarding the potential for a grocery store downtown, does anybody have any good ideas of where exactly a grocery store like we're talking about could go downtown? Would there be any existing buildings able to accomodate one (I personally doubt that) or would a new building have to be built? I still think that it would be pretty cool to see the old Civic Auditorium turned into a grocery store, but some of you have pointed out that this building probably wouldn't be suited for a grocery store...mainly due to the fact that there is no ground-level floor...you either have to go up stars or down stairs. A grocery store would require quite a large space on one floor...I'm not sure any of the older buildings downtown would be able to accomodate one. As far as building a new building big enough...where would that go downtown? In all reality, there aren't too many empty lots downtown...certainly not one available right now that could accomodate a grocery store. I think this gets back to my feeling that, while we certainly need to go "up" downtown, we also need to go "out" a bit. Our downtown doesn't have the kinds of spaces that some of these larger anchors stores that I'm talking about (like a grocery store) would be able to go into. Perhaps somebody (the city or a developer) should be looking into buying a couple of underutilized blocks on the outskirts of downtown and converting them into an expansion of downtown....an expansion that could accomodate a grocery store, etc.

MattFacingSouth said...

jazz club

Jess said...

I live within walking distance to downtown and I would love it if there were more shops that I could use so I wouldn't have to get in my car and drive everywhere. A grocery store would be wonderful but I have no clue where it could go. A pharmacy would also be great, one where I could have film developed.

Amy said...

An honest-to-god, "club-sized" music venue. The success of the Aquarium in Fargo could easily be replicated here; a number of bands that stop in Fargo between gigs in Minneapolis and Winnipeg might consider a show in Grand Forks instead. As much as I love live music at the Hub (I'm there every weekend; it doesn't matter who's playing), it's undoubtedly not suited for it. Also, an establishment like the Aquarium could also serve as a venue for all -ages shows (by simply refraining from serving alcohol during these shows), which bars like the Hub and Crosstown Lounge could not. Lastly, I've personally witnessed a mass outmigration of local musicians to locales such as Fargo and Minneapolis simply because there isn't enough opportunity to play here in Grand Forks, and putting an end to that problem would be the greatest perk of such a venue.

Anonymous said...

Bagel shop & microbrewery...

Anonymous said...

I definitely vote for:

- Bagel shop, a la Panera or St. Louis Bread Company
- Grocery store (gourmet/organic or regular)
- Sports equipment/rental shop - I visited a shop in St. Maarten recently that offered bikes, kayaks, canoes, skates/Rollerblades, Hobie cats, and hiking equipment for sale and rent (primary focus was the rental market). How great that would be to utilize the two rivers downtown and the greenway. Agree with avid kayaker dude above (who is probably my husband...) that the larger shops such as Scheel's or Cabela's should be more active in the watersports/demo market
- A larger bookstore with later hours. As someone else said above, the UND B&N is a joke. Most B&N stores are open till 10:00–11:00 at night, and are quite the social gathering/quiet study/spend an evening reading books or magazines type of places with tons of cushy furniture.

Anonymous said...

3rd street is now serving the after bar crowd. I would call this diner-like.

Downtowner said...

Downtown used to have a New York New York bagel bakery on the corner of 5th and DeMers. I don't know why that closed. Would be nice to have something like that return, but maybe it's too similar to the offerings at Dakota Harvest.

Instead of a new bookstore, how about a funky used one, or even a combination used book and record store?

I'd like to see Ski and Bike Shop back downtown, too. Downtown's gateway to the Greenway provides many opportunities for bikers and cross country ski enthusiasts.

A jazz or blues club would be nice.
The basement of St. John's Block would be a cool place for that. There used to be a fun sandwich pub down there called Boboli's. Every once in a while they had live music.

An ice cream shop.

An Irish pub like Molly Quinn's in Minneapolis, or the Toad in the Hole in Winnipeg.

3rd Street Cafe is open overnights on TH-FRI-SAT for the bar crowd. Good eats!

Anonymous said...

Yeah. Would love to see a bike, canoe, kayak, blades rental. I used to live in GF and the last couple of trips back I've wanted to explore the Greenway, but didn't have a means to do it, other than by foot.

As for food/drug option, maybe one of the larger chains like CVS or Walgreens with a full convenience store section.

Still would love to see Urban Outfitters or similar. Their mix of clothing, small furniture, gifts and cards would be perfect for downtown/University/Canadian shoppers.

Anonymous said...

There is no Borders anywhere in ND as far as I know. I tried to contact them twice. The first time nothing happened. The second, someone said she was forwarding my request for them to come to GFK to someone in the planning department. That was the end. Like all chains, until they decide to come nothing will happen.
I agree that with all the people living downtown a grocery store would be a good thing. It wouldn't have to be large. I think something unique like the Whole Foods would be successful.

Elucidarian said...

There's a healthy consensus on the blog right now.

Downtown needs one or two places that are big and attractive.

A modern grocer. Whole Foods, Trader Joes, or whatever. Something unique and impressive that will make people want to come downtown more often, while simply accommodating needs of those already living there.

Something akin to the Barnes & Noble of Fargo existing downtown, maybe on one of the larger building's main floors. Shop for books, study, drink cappuccinos, and meet friends, all in the same respectfully-sized space.

Psychologically, a multi-level retail complex (like a department store) would be too much. Expansive but comprehensible is the way to go. When you step into the Fargo B&N, you can see how large it is from the front door. Large enough to offer a real selection, but manageably laid out for us to create a comfortable mental map.

Late hour crowd: great to hear 3rd Street Cafe is catering to this demographic. In Eastern Wisconsin, at least ten years ago, when the bars closed at 2am, people didn't just leave, because the STREET FOOD VENDORS were out! A hot bratwurst before heading home can do wonders. Trust me.

Small business spaces downtown have seen a number of unsustainable occupants. There are a couple locations that would do well to expand or restructure. Urban Stampede, for example, used to emanate innovation by reorganizing its layout with zealous regularity. They've been pretty stagnant this millennium. It couldn't hurt them to move forward again. Incorporating an in-house bakery (bagel shop) or joining forces with an art gallery or book store in the space next to them, conjoining.

Diversification for it's own sake is a roll of the dice. It takes an intuitive appraisal of prevailing trends vs. local demography to broker a successful synergy.

Anonymous said...

I've seen many people shop for groceries at Amazing Grains natural food store downtown. I don't think there would be room or need for another downtown grocer.

Anonymous said...

Even with Amazing Grains, I still think we need an upscale grocery store downtown. Admittedly, I've never been inside Amazing Grains...it's a little crunchy for my style...but it would be nice to be able to buy "regular" food somewhere downtown. Like someone else mentioned, even a Walgreen's or a CVS with a small grocery section would be nice...someplace to buy staples such as milk, sugar, flour, eggs, etc. if needed without having to drive quite a ways. With Leever's closing, the closest grocery store to me now is the northside Hugo's on 20th Street, and that's not even so close. I would still do my main grocery shopping at Wal-Mart or Target, but for last-minute items or forgotten necessities, something close by would be really nice.

Elucidarian said...

re: Amazing Grains "I don't think there would be room or need for another downtown grocer."

I love that place and wouldn't stop shopping there if larger grocer opened nearby. They should remain a viable niche market.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to see antique stores like the Red Geranium and Victorian Rose that were downtown. Make use of the old buildings and their creaky wood floors and tin ceilings. Those kind of stores that overwhelm your senses with so many things!

Anonymous said...

I'd love to see downtown look like Stillwater-specialty shops,antique stores and a nice variety of restaurants. We had them at one point but they tend to move south. With more people living downtown, maybe there is more support. I like shopping at Kowalskis in the cities-small with nice selection. But parking would be a problem.

Anonymous said...

So. WHY did the Red Geranium close? Ditto, Victorian Rose? And how about the bookstores that were downtown---Eliott Glessheim had a fantastic one (Elliot's Twice-Told Tales), and the bookstore on north fourth street moved to its present location on South Washington, simply because it wasn't profitable in the downtown location.

Maybe the new parking arrangement will allow someone else to be more successful in bringing a bookstore back to downtown.

Anonymous said...

Downtown Stillwater struggles, too; big time.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know if Barnes & Noble downtown Rochester is still open? That is a centerpiece of downtown retail there and one of the coolest bookstores ever.

Anonymous said...

"A large business that employs a couple hundred people. Can you imagine the lunch business for the restaurants downtown if there were a large business in the area?"

Sounds like the County Office Building and courthouse. Oh Wait!! They are county and state employees that bring their own lunches as they can't afford to eat out every day.

vcsuvike said...

I believe the downtown Rochester Barnes & Noble is open. I think a venue like the Aquarium or Playmaker is needed in Grand Forks... might be a perfect use for the old civic. Some sort of drug store or grocery would be a good fit.

Anonymous said...

a bar and a subway would be nice...maybe a gas station, too.

akm said...

A couple of mine have already been said but need repeated: 1. A pharmacy/drugstore. 2. A brewery (would be very cool in the Opera House or in the buildings where Paulo's was). 3. A newsstand (with books, cards, gifts), which would be even more successful if it served coffee and alcohol (like the option to add Bailey's to your coffee, not a bar setting). Perhaps it could have an internet cafe too.

Anonymous said...

a bar and a subway would be nice...maybe a gas station, too.

There IS a Subway (the sandwich shop) in downtown now.

Anonymous said...

I think two main ideas need to take shape for dwtwngf to grow and stay stabilized:

There needs to be a measure passed by the city council that new buildings being built in the renaissance zone must be follow some sort of basic development code - i.e., no new buildings can be built that are under two stories tall.

Seems like when the old City Center Mall was torn down, 3rd St building were built/remodeled in this sort of way, which is good because it provides areas for mixed use commercial/retail and also residential use above that - which raises the population density of the area, which attracts and maintains businesses (lots of people in a geographical area = need for amenities such as retail).

I still think it's a travesty that Gate City was allowed to build their new building on the corner of 5th and Demers; on a huge footprint of land with no consideration taken as to how that piece of land will affect surrounding developments. GF needs to avoid development like this.

The other thing: dwtwngf needs an anchor store - grocery, large bookstore, etc.

I think the best thing GF can hope for, realistically, is that UND will decide to finally utilize some of the empty office space downtown - bringing more foot traffic into downtown during the day (students, faculty). Those students may decide to relocate downtown if they are in the area enough, which makes the case for having any of the businesses mentioned above.

Anonymous said...

PEOPLE!

Anonymous said...

Having decent parking would facilitate all of the above.

Anonymous said...

Red Geranium, Victorian Rose, and Eliott's books moved to the The Plain and Fancy Antique Mall on Washington. The lack of traffic downtown made them decide to move in together, so that is where you'll find all of their stuff. Elliott has a little corner in ther with some of his books.

Anonymous said...

Well avid kayaker dude I hope your suggestion comes true. We need more bikes and kayaks in downtown. The Red and Red Lake are great for kayaks and canoes. Best to launch at Lincoln Park boat ramp. Next spring maybe bikes, kayaks, and canoes will be riverside for rent. Like Itasca Lake Park rentals. greenglass4.

Anonymous said...

Gate City Bank rebuilt on their existing property. I think the building is attractive. What's the travesty?

Anonymous said...

I would love to see an urban outfitters. The clothing stores in GF are not the greatest. If not an urban outfitters, a boutique that sold similar clothes to those sold at urban outfitters. Designer jeans and other unique clothing would be nice.

Anonymous said...

Gate City Bank rebuilt on their existing property. I think the building is attractive. What's the travesty?

That it was zoned as low density commercial in a medium density zone (the renaissance zone).

Eventually, the new Gate City building will have to be torn down to make way for something that incorporates mixed use (residential & commercial). The travesty is that there was no foresight given to this future problem.

It's sort of like building a single family home right on the corner of 3rd St and Demers - this example is extreme, but you get the idea.

Why not build bigger, and lease the rest of the building out? You could still easily incorporate what they have built into a more functional building.

It just makes no sense...

Anonymous said...

So the Alerus Parking lot, Edward Jones building and law office across the street are different? No, I don't get it. The corporate centers on 4th and DeMers are bigger-how much of that space is rented out?

Anonymous said...

I agree with previous Anonymous analogy of building a single family home right on the corner of 3rd St and Demers.

It's not illegal, but it's irresponsible. And it certainly shows a lack of confidence in downtown. I agree that downtown doesn't need more office space at the moment. But why not build up 10 stories or more, take the first two floors for the bank and build out the rest as condos and apartments. Common sense.

Anonymous said...

Common sense. How do you figure? There's no demand for the type of structure you explained.

Gate City owns a prime lot, they want a newer branch on that location. They build it. No big deal.

akm said...

An upscale hotel (like Hotel Donaldson in Fargo) would also be a good addition to downtown.

Anonymous said...

The downtown Gate City location has very little parking space and no place to grow. How in the world could that support a taller structure? Big bike racks? There is a ramp across the street, but it is across the street and people just don't like to use ramps in downtown Grand Forks if they can access street parking or a free lot.

Anonymous said...

Such limited thinking. Underground parking would solve resident parking problem if a Gate City building supported a 10-story residential on upper floors.

As for the demand, I disagree. I think students, young singles and "married without kids" would love living there, with views and easy access to downtown nightlife and DeMers artery.

Anonymous said...

One addition to above: There's a trend among parents of college students to buy property for their kids to live in while they're in school. If they can turn over the property after 4 years with a small profit, they've more than paid for student housing.

Anonymous said...


Gate City owns a prime lot, they want a newer branch on that location. They build it. No big deal.


Actually it is a big deal. This is the sort of development that prohibits future growth downtown.

Hell, even look at Google maps for proof - the downtown area has a decent semicircle shape of various types of buildings, followed by a ton of flat, unnecessary parking lots and single story buildings. Eyesores.

Anonymous said...


Gate City owns a prime lot, they want a newer branch on that location. They build it. No big deal.


Also, this is the sort of development style that is fit for the suburbs, not the downtown of a major city in North Dakota.

Anonymous said...

FYI anon above. There was an undergroung parking lot in that location before the previous Gate City Bank was built. There was another bank/savings and loan at that location. I wouldn't want to be the builder of a 10 story high building and try to fill it with tenants on that small lot. Underground parking or not.

Anonymous said...

There was an undergroung parking lot in that location before the previous Gate City Bank was built.

That's true. I actually saw the site during the demolition of the former building on Gate City site, and saw the old underground parking structure as well. It looked to be flood prone at best.

I think one major point that needs to be said is that the point of good development is not to build highrises and hope all the usable space in the building gets leased - it is to build smart with consideration to the effects on the surrounding area.

I'd much rather live in a downtown where I could rent/buy a condo that is close to where I work and shop, and get rid of my car, than drive downtown once in a while to have drinks with friends and catch a band, then go all the way back out to where I live.

So yeah, the idea is creating a community that serves many purposes to its residents.

Anonymous said...

I also believe that the old Civic Center is in the condition, and is the perfect location for a new nightclub such as the sort of thing that Playmakers in Fargo has become.

The buildings are roughly the same size - the only difference is that $millions have gone into remodeling Playmakers time and time again to get it to the condition it is in today. Parking is available at the current Civic location as well, but there would likely be an increase in misdemeanor sorts of crimes in the area. Might be a trade off, who knows.

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

but there would likely be an increase in misdemeanor sorts of crimes in the area. Might be a trade off, who knows.

That's where the 'community' comes into play--we're not going to turn into NYC overnight, and if there is enough housing for people downtown, the locals will outnumber the (some of them) idiot college students, and perhaps put the kibosh on any misbehaving after leaving the bars. Like breaking bottles on the sidewalk again and again and again.

--------
www.campusdakota.com - For the students, not the universities.

Anonymous said...

Geez you guys are literal. It wouldn't have to be underground. It could be a ramp integrated into the 10 story structure, so it would be secured and have elevator access to your apartment or condo. Open your minds and the rest will follow.

C. Y. said...

What the downtown needs is enough people generating enough money to attract the businesses you ask for.

That's the neat/not-so-neat fact of the business world and business plans - they have to show a profit before they show up.

Doesn't hurt to dream though, maybe someone sitting on the fence will see this and it'll tilt them in favor of some new downtown development.

Anonymous said...

Let's make the ground level of buildings downtown into parking lots. No flooding problems, and solves the parking problems as well.

j said...

I agree with bringing UND into the downtown picture. I think if the city worked with the University, it could attract students to downtown. Maybe they could bring some "classes" to the downtown as well.

I don't see any difference bringing some of UND to the east as they're building UND to the west.

Anonymous said...

what is the chain obsession?
why can't we support local businesses? That is what leads to a booming economy in self reliant communities. In this day and age where we are so dependent on outside sources that we are deeply affected by something that happens 3,000 miles away. Basic principle and this thread proves to me that Grand Forks, and maybe the whole mid west is about 10-15years behind the majority of the populations economic development and mindset. When you look at larger cities the 'chain boom' occurred in the mid to late 80's and continued basically through the 90's. Now cities are left with over fluxed strip malls and abandoned buildings because this businesses moved in all too quick and without a community need. Many other communities around the country are clamoring for the opposite of what Grand Forks thinks it needs. We are on the cusp of the downfall of the 'big box store.' This is proved with the rapidly decreasing value of Walmart which was the first of this kind. Many years ago back in college one of my business mentors said "don't be a follower but be at least one person behind so that when they fall you will know when to duck." It is true. Walmart crumbles and I can guarantee that the others will to. And with that downtown Grand Forks would be a shell of what it is even now.

Anonymous said...

Amazing grains is great. For the person looking for 'regular' food; you are a passing age. This is the definition of regular. People are demanding for food that is actually good for them and good tasting. If you have never been in there how can you decide it is too 'crunchy.' Give it a shot. Than you can judge

Anonymous said...

I agree. Amazing Grains is a great store. It has all the 'regular' staples such as bread, milk, flour and eggs, etc. and the deli serves up inventive, healthy soups and sandwiches. Seriously, check it out.

Anonymous said...

To anon who says we "guys are literal"...parking isn't the only problem. There is a lot of empty space downtown. I'd love to see more business offerings downtown, but I wouldn't be the builder of a super structure downtown Grand Forks. Maybe you've got the funds...

Anonymous said...

Bringing UND to downtown...

I went to the Mortar Board's charity art auction at Porpoura Downtown last night. Even though it was raining, the place was packed. Live music and tons of art.

Anonymous said...

to anonymous with the "chain obsession" question- pretty sure you will find plenty of people who aren't chain obsessed on this blog. many will bend over backwards to insult walmart, etc..

Anonymous said...

I would LOVE to see a Whole Foods grocery store but I'm afraid it would hurt Amazing Grains and I love that store too. I think that if Whole Foods were to come to GF, it should just move into Leevers. I'm devastated at the loss of my main grocery store. Sigh. I vote for a Jamba Juice. It's pretty yummy.