Friday, April 27, 2007

Poll: grading Grand Forks' recovery

Time for a new poll question: How would you grade Grand Forks' recovery from the events of 1997? Cast you vote now and then share your thoughts in this thread.

Poll results: voters want a second hospital

The results of the poll are hard to ignore and harder to spin. Of the 148 people who answered my question "Do you support a second hospital in Grand Forks?", more than 70% said yes.

Yes 71%105
No 24%35
Unsure 5%8
148 votes total

So, given this poll and others like it and given the comments we've been hearing from so many within our community, does it worry the members of the city council who recently turned down a request from the Aurora people for a tax abatement on their proposed new hospital? Healthcare is something that the public has very strong opinions about. I wonder, does it worry these city council members to think of the fact that some people within the community will now see these men as having denied those who elected them a choice in medical care? It would worry me if I was on the council and wanted to stay there. Again, people have very strong opinions in regards to medical care.

I've been fairly quiet on the whole Aurora Hospital debate. I never felt that I had enough information to take an hardline stance on something as critical as this. I'm still not quite sure what my thoughts are on this matter. However, I think I'm leaning towards a pro-Aurora position. Right now, I'm a little concerned that the city council has 1) temporarily delayed the chances of a second health care option within the city and 2) temporarily delayed the potential for economic growth and job creation. I use the word "temporarily" because I ultimately think that this blow from the city council isn't going to drastically change Aurora's plans. In my opinion, I think we can be relatively assured that there will be a new hospital on the Aurora campus in a couple of years.

It's really a very interesting turn of events. Clearly, a major segment of the community wants to see Aurora Hospital built, but the city council went against the wishes of so many within the community and, at least temporarily, delayed these plans. In a way, I have to give some credit to the council members who voted down this tax abatement. They aparrently weighed the options and decided to vote against this proposal even though, by doing this, many people within the community will be critical of them. It's interesting to see elected officials not always taking the easy, popular option.

Still, I wonder if they have made the best choice. What do you think?

Thursday, April 26, 2007

One down...

Well, one of the many eyesores on Gateway Drive has finally been destroyed. For the last couple of days, a small crew has been tearing down the old Transport Inc. building. The dilapidated structure, which used to offend from its position a block or two east of old Westward Ho property, is currently a pile of rubbish. This demolition was first mentioned on GFL last year.

Let's hope that the Weekley Auto Wrecking building/house are the next to go! This very visible stretch of Gateway seems to be a prime place for redevelopment of some sort. Let's just hope it won't be another auto parts store. Seriously, I see a gradual redevelopment of the Gateway corridor taking place over the next decade or so. I think some things are already in place for such a renaissance and I think we'll see more good news for the corridor in the future.

Goodbye, Gateway won't be missed. Now, if we could send that wrecking crew to a few other properties in your neck of the woods...

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Chicago Tribune article

I came across a great Chicago Tribune article from Sunday which detailed our city's recovery from the Flood of 1997. It's great to see the "Rebuilt, Renewed, Reborn" Grand Forks get such positive publicity. In my opinion, some pretty amazing things have happened and are continuing to happen in this city and it's fabulous to read glowing pieces like this.

Some excerpts:

"By virtually every barometer, this northern outpost that gave the world Cream of Wheat and a perennial college hockey powerhouse is on a run that makes real estate agents and urban planners salivate."
"In the last decade, the region added almost 12 percent more jobs. All the public schools are nearly new or rehabbed. A new river greenway twice the size of New York City's Central Park is a short walk from sold-out condos being built downtown. And, on Sunday afternoon, the city is hosting a free rib dinner in its stunning, multiuse arena."

"Everyone concedes it has been a rocky trek to urban renewal, and scars remain. But Grand Forks perseveres."

"Different people point to different events as turning points in the recovery. Some cite a change in mayors, from Owens, who generated an outpouring of sympathy and support, to Dr. Mike Brown, perceived as energetic and visionary."

"Brown, an obstetrician/gynecologist, concedes that Owens made some visionary decisions, including moving ahead with plans for the $80 million, city-owned Alerus Center and supporting the clearing of hundreds of houses for the greenway."

"Nearly everyone agrees that the cornerstone of the turnaround is the 2,200-acre Grand Forks Greenway, a $409 million system of dikes and flood walls that runs for 8 miles on either side of the Red River and is designed to handle a crest about 13 feet above the 1997 level. Largely disguised as wooded, open space with golf courses for duffers and Frisbee throwers, the Greenway also includes a 20-mile trail, picnic shelters, campgrounds and a long sledding hill along one of the levees."

"Observers say all this helped create and maintain a buzz in Grand Forks that generated commercial investment and growth unlike anything the city had seen since perhaps the boom years of the 1890s, when local miller Frank Amidon invented Cream of Wheat. About 60 stores, including Lowe's, Best Buy, Kohl's and Old Navy, have arrived in a shopping district on the south end of town."

"Grand Forks' sales tax collections hit an all-time high last year and the population is about 2,000 more than in 1996."
You can't buy publicity like that.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

New Gateway McDonald's

The McDonald's on Gateway Drive will close early next month in preparation for a major building project. The existing building will be torn down in early May. A new McDonald's building will be constructed on the property and will open about three months later.

The existing Gateway McDonald's, despite being seemingly very busy, is a small, outdated building. I'm personally happy to see this building replaced with a new structure.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

New downtown coffee shop

I was walking down South Third Street the other day and noticed signs in a building on the west side of the street - "Coming Soon: Porpoura Coffee House." I'm not sure if this is a relocation of the Porpoura in Columbia Mall or an additional location.

While I'm on the subject of downtown, I also walked around the Elite Brownstones project which is nearing completion. Recently, there has been some discussion over siding used on the back of the building and in small locations on the north and south sides of the building. Personally, even though I am usually very picky over such things, I have no problem with the use of siding on these areas of the building. The back faces the alley and I think the siding looks pretty appropriate for an alley. I should add that I wouldn't want to see any siding on the front of the building, but I have no problem with siding on the building's rear or in small locations on the north and south sides. The complex is looking great...this is going to be a wonderful addition for downtown.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Ten Years Later

This is the Grand Forks Life Flood of 1997 Anniversary thread. Share your memories and thoughts of the defining event in Grand Forks-East Grand Forks history.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Jeannie's Restaurant closing

According to WDAZ, Jeannie's Restaurant is closing its doors after many years on South Washington Street. The restaurant's owners are retiring and the building will be replaced with an auto parts store.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

A bigger and better downtown

With all of the new housing construction taking place downtown and with the increased number of restaurants, bars, and retail establishments opening in the city’s center, I’ve started thinking about the future of downtown Grand Forks. Slowly, empty properties and parking lots downtown are starting to be redeveloped (Flood Memorial Park turned into “Elite Brownstones” development, North Third Street parking lot turned into “The Current” apartments) and empty buildings are being filled. I’m crossing my fingers that this is a trend which will continue.

With new construction and more people coming downtown, we are going to start to run out of room for new developments. Maybe not this year, maybe not five years from now, but eventually we will run out of room, in my opinion. In the few blocks that currently constitute the existing downtown core, there are increasingly fewer and fewer empty areas that can be developed. So, if downtown continues to grow and if developers continue to show an interest in developing new properties in the city center, things are going to have to change downtown. In my opinion, we are going to have to redefine the geographic area we think of as downtown. To put it simply, downtown is going to have to get bigger in size.

My proposal...
I would like to see an effort made to redevelop several city blocks which sit west of the immediate downtown area. The area I’m referring to is bounded on the east by the downtown commercial area, on the north by University Avenue, on the west by North Washington Street, and on the south by the rail yards. I think that this area is a long-term solution for the fact that downtown, as it currently exists, may be too small for the Grand Forks of the future.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not proposing that every property in this area be bought out and demolished. That would be akin to the urban renewal of the 1960s and 70s and that is not what I have in mind here. Instead, I would like to see an entity (be it the city of Grand Forks or private investors/developers) buy properties in this area as they become available. Then I would like to see the properties thoughtfully redeveloped into new uses which will compliment and add to what we already have downtown.

Think about the possibilities that such an area could hold for downtown. These city blocks could be redeveloped with apartment buildings, office buildings, mixed-use developments, and retail/entertainment ventures. This area currently houses a small amount of commercial property, some light industrial uses, and a couple of blocks of older housing. In my opinion, this area is filled with low density developments which could potentially be replaced with higher density developments. With proper planning, we could essentially double the area that we think of as the immediate downtown area and downtown could stretch from the Red River to North Washington Street.

A gradual redevelopment like the one I’m proposing would have to be done very thoughtfully and great attention would have to be paid to detail. Clearly, there are several properties in the area (Warehouse and Freight House Apartments, etc.) which already add to the historic downtown area and I would never want to see buildings like those demolished. Also, the proper density would have to be achieved in this area. I wouldn’t want to see any one-story buildings here. They should be a minimum of two stories and, ideally, I would also like to see a few taller buildings. Another important aspect of any such redevelopment that comes to mind is that the new developments would have to be built to closely match the style of downtown. Buildings should come right up to the sidewalk...that should be enough of a setback and would help the new area blend in with the old part of downtown. Also, obviously the architecture of new developments should compliment what we already have downtown.

Let's think about it, ok?
So there it is…my proposal for a future downtown twice the size of the existing one. This area could hold huge potential for more downtown residents, more downtown employers, and more downtown retail and entertainment opportunities. If we really want to grow into a great “destination city” we need an active, growing downtown and I think this is the most logical way to take downtown Grand Forks to the next level. You’re probably bored after reading this, but I really wish that you - as well as those people in places of power - would at least think over my ideas. I think this could work and I think it would be a phenomenal addition to downtown and the city of Grand Forks.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Open Thread #21

You guys have now posted well over 3,000 comments on this blog. Keep up the good work!

Friday, April 06, 2007

MPR wants your flood memories

Allison Herrera of Minnesota Public Radio's Public Insight Network has asked me to post a request for you - the readers of this blog and the residents of the Grand Forks/East Grand Forks community - to share your memories of the 1997 flood and how it changed you.

According to Herrera, "Minnesota Public Radio wants to know what you remember about the great flood of 1997. We're seeking people's personal accounts of the disaster. We're doing a piece on April 18th on the mid-morning show that involves the people who were actually there."

To share your memories (MPR is looking for both text and images), simply click here and fill out a simple form.

New blog: Grand Cities Dining

Our friend, Dale, has started a new blog. Grand Cities Dining is Marilyn Hagerty's new competition.

Dale says...

"With all the whining (and more than a fair bit of it from me,) about the lack of serious restaurant reviews in the Grand Cities, I figured I might as well put my money where my mouth is and write up a few. I eat out a fair amount, tend to mix it up a bit, and have some experience writing reviews, so we'll see what comes out of it."
I think it's great to see someone finally start a blog devoted to the local dining scene. Good luck to Dale!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

UND going smoke free

According to President Kupchella, the University of North Dakota is going smoke free as of October 5. (Herald story)

In my opinion, this is great news.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

New poll: a second hospital in GF?

Closing the old poll...
The old poll question was "How often do you read local blogs?". With a total of 84 votes, "Several times a day" was the winner with 35% of the votes. (Results)

Several times a day 35%29
Once a day 18%15
Several times a week 14%12
Once a week 10%8
Several times a month 5%4
Once a month 6%5
This is my first time 13%11
84 votes total
Opening the new poll...
The new poll question is "Do you support a second hospital in Grand Forks?". I'll be interested to see how this one turns out.

Monday, April 02, 2007

New hospital coming to GF?

The rumors are apparently true. There is a new hospital coming to the south side of Grand Forks.

Tonight, the Grand Forks city council will discuss an application for property tax exemption from Aurora Medical Center. According to WDAZ, the new $60 million dollar hospital will be built near the current Aurora Medical Park/Stadter Center complex.

Big news, huh? This comes almost a year after Altru Health System announced that they will be spending $100 million dollars expanding and renovating their facilities. When the new Aurora hospital is built, this will be the first time in years that Grand Forks residents will have more than one hospital to choose from.

Update - 4/3/2007 - 12:45 AM
I just changed $20 million to $60 million. I'm pretty sure WDAZ had stated $20 million, but Tu-Uyen's article in Tuesday's Herald says $60 million.

Open Thread #20

The last open thread currently holds the title of being "Most Commented" thread in this blog's history - 61 comments. Can you beat that?

Additions to the local business scene

There is a list in Monday's Herald that details all of the new businesses that are coming to town in the near future or have recently opened. There isn't really very much in the list that we don't already know about, but it is interesting to scan through the developments.

Two interesting things:

The new University Village strip mall has at least two confirmed tenants: a chiropractor and a nail salon

The new Homestead Grove strip mall on South Washington (the one across from the Aurora Medical Park) has at least one confirmed tenant: a fitness center. As has already been mentioned, the developmet will also be home to a Choice Financial bank branch and the new offices of Crary Development.