Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Open Thread #100

The open thread turns 100...pretty amazing!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Open Thread #99

Here's this week's installment of the open thread.  Have your say!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

If you had $100 million dollars...

In our discussion of how UND might go about expanding its campus in the future, the topic of redeveloping Grand Forks' BNSF railyards came up.  The railroad and railyards cut right through the heart of Grand Forks and occupy a large amount of land located directly between the UND campus and downtown Grand Forks.

Moving the railyards and redeveloping the land might be only a dream...something virtually unattainable...but it is still an idea that really interests me.  If thought about this for years.  I actually see it as sort of a manifest destiny for the city that UND and downtown should grow towards each other and a mixed-use neighborhood should be created between the two areas.  If we could ever accomplish this, we would have one giant, contiguous, commercial/campus/high-density residential area running through the heart of the city.

Below is a map to start the conversation.  The UND campus is outlined in green, downtown is the blue area, the "New Downtown" area that I've previously proposed and that now the city of Grand Forks itself is talking about is shown in orange, and the potential railyard redevelopment area is shown in red.  If you had hundreds of millions of dollars (or whatever sum it would take to magically relocate the railyards somewhere outside of the city, how would you use the old railyard area?  What portion would you devote to future growth for UND?  What types of public facilities would you like to see located in the new development?  What would you want the new developments to look like?  Should such a development be built in the classic grid-style of streets to mimic the older sections of the city?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Where will UND build in the future?

Nothing is as important to the city of Grand Forks as its flagship employer and cultural foundation - the University of North Dakota. UND's enrollment has been up and down in recent years, but I feel that UND will very likely grow by quite a bit in the longterm. If UND does increase the size of its student body and its campus offerings, how will the campus change to accommodate that growth?

When UND was founded in the 1880s, it was placed two miles outside of the city limits of Grand Forks. For years, students had to cross fields by means of carriage, train, or trolley in order to access the campus. Over the last 125 years, the city has grown to meet the campus - indeed, it has surrounded the campus. UND is now essentially a land-locked institution. There are no large tracts of undeveloped land adjacent to campus.

On this blog, I have pushed for the geographical expansion of downtown Grand Forks. That's a proposal which, it now appears, will become the reality in the future. Now, I've been thinking about where and how UND can push its boundaries in the future. Don't get me wrong, there is plenty of room for denser development and redevelopment on the existing UND campus. Still, if UND experiences a major increase in the size of its student body, where will new classrooms and residence halls go? If UND ever desires to add large-scale building projects in the future years - a new preforming arts center, a new football stadium, more research buildings - where would those structures go?

The map below presents some possible expansion sites that I've identified. Developing the empty land at Technology Circle is an obvious one. Turning the UND-owned Ray Richards Golf Course into an expansion of the campus is a less obvious and likely more controversial possibility. I think it is really only a matter of time until the giant Chester Fritz parking lot is converted to a parking garage and the existing lot turned into multiple buildings sites. ideas like pushing the EERC campus into the residential neighborhood to the east and converting the neighborhood between University Avenue and 6th Avenue North into more space for campus buildings will be difficult, but likely necessary, future projects.

UND should first look within its borders to accommodate growth and new building projects, but I think it is prudent to identify some potential expansion scenarios. What do you think? Do you feel that UND will ever need to greatly expand its campus? What do you think of my ideas? What about a satellite campus elsewhere in the city? Please share you ideas with us.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Open Thread #98

I'm still going to have the occasional open thread....probably on a weekly basis. I like readers to be able to create dialogue instead of just commenting on my posts. I also like the way that open threads can encourage interesting leads or tips.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Things like this just bug me...

So the Herald has a story in Thursday's paper about the Alerus Center's bottom line, but the only picture of the events center that they can come up with is one from about eight years ago when the building was still under construction? You can even see construction equipment parked by the building. Wednesday was a beautiful day...the perfect kind of day for taking a picture, Herald. Sheesh! Little things like that just bug me...

Sunday, October 12, 2008

New GFK Terminal

At tomorrow night's Grand Forks city council meeting, council members will see a presentation about the new passenger terminal being planned for Grand Forks International Airport. According to the presentation, construction will take place from 2009-2011 and the finished structure is estimated to cost around $21 million.

Update -10/13/2008 - 11:48 PM
Here is a description of the new terminal and some more pictures courtesy of the JLG Architects website:

Designed for efficiency, improved circulation, and future expansion, the new Grand Forks International Terminal offers a comfortable traveling environment within a “Wow Factor” showpiece for the State. Located on a new site, the two-level terminal provides two gates capable of boarding aircraft from the Saab SF340A to the Boeing B757-300 through a passenger bridge with access to all planes, including commuter flights. Space outside the facility includes curbside loading, parking for 400 vehicles, car rental facilities, and a new aircraft apron. Materials, including stone, metal panels, concrete masonry units, and glass curtain wall, were selected to fit the landscape, as well as evoke the concepts of flight. In order to avoid a “visual shadow” for the control tower, the front of the Terminal is slightly higher than the back.

Third Anniversary

This month marks the third anniversary of Grand Forks Life.  Unfortunately, I don't really look back on this year as a positive one for the local blogosphere in general or this blog in particular.  Grand Forks Life has become almost unrecognizable from the blog it used to be.

A major part of this has been because of laziness on my part - my life has just become much busier than it used to be when I started this blog.  Another major reason why this blog took a wrong turn was the onslaught of anonymous posters.  Of course, this blog has always had anonymous posters, but it has reached the point where 90% of people are now posting entirely anonymously.  The comment sections are filled with dozens and dozens of seemingly pointless comments...many of which are little more than attacks or unfounded gossip.  This isn't what this blog used to be and not what I ever had in mind for this blog.  I actually feel ashamed that my blog has devolved to something like this.  Things have to change.

I want to give this blog a makeover.  I've started by changing the overall design.  I know changing a few colors and the blog's layout isn't going to make the blog what it used to be, but the "dots" were becoming tired...don't you agree?  We need something a little fresher.

I'm also trying something a little more drastic: no more "anonymous" posters...at least for now.  I'm hoping that this will clean up the comment sections and hopefully encourage some of the old GFL readers/commenters to return.  You'll have to sign up with Google to comment on GFL now.  It's really very simple.

Another change that needs to be made is for me to get back to regularly posting interesting things once again.  I need your advice...what types of posts are you interested in seeing on this blog?

I want to be proud of Grand Forks Life once again.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Open Thread #97

A new week...a new open thread.  So much to talk about!

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

GF Dining Thread #3

Time for that most favorite of threads...the dining thread.  After all, you guys just love your food and just love talking about the local restaurant scene, don't you?

There have been plenty of changes in the local dining scene lately.  Boston's is gone and the building will become a Space Aliens...is that a good trade?  Mama Maria's has left Grand Forks for the sunny pastures of East Grand Forks.  The Emerald Grill is history and the Royal Fork's future is questionable after the Fargo location closed.  Prices at local restaurants seem to be rising everyday...are you cutting back on dining out?  There are new restaurants, too.  Beyond Juice and the Pita Pit have set up shop at University Village.  Buffalo Wild Wings and Subway will soon break ground on new buildings adjacent to each other on 32nd Avenue South in front of Kohls.  The Firkin Pub is planning for a new location in Grand Forks' historic St. John's Block.  Have you heard of any other new restaurants coming to Grand Forks-East Grand Forks in the future?

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Reba and Kelly in Grand Forks

Reba and Kelly in Grand Forks. No, I don't mean next month's concert at Ralph Engelstad Arena. Yes, country superstar Reba McEntire and American Idol season 1 winner Kelly Clarkson are coming to the Ralph on October 23, but the two singers have already become rather familiar with the Grand Cities. That's because, according to the word on the street, Reba and Kelly spent a couple of days in Grand Forks last week.

The second leg of the 2 Worlds 2 Voices tour kicked off on September 25th in Winnipeg at the MTS Centre. Rumor has it that - for whatever reason - Reba and Kelly stayed in Grand Forks last week before their Winnipeg concert. Apparently, numerous reports around Grand Forks had the two performers staying at the Canad Inn, eating at downtown restaurants, and even catching a movie at East Grand Forks' River Cinema 12.

Kind of cool, huh?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Open Thread #96

Off-topic ramblings go here.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Business names that drive me nuts

Recently, Mark's Amoco gas station at 1301 University Avenue was renamed to University Landing Strip gas station.  What?  Who came up with that name?  Is this supposed to be some sort of parody of the University Station gas station at University Village?  At least that building was built to somewhat resemble a train station.  Calling a gas station University Station is kind of cute, but calling a gas station University Landing Strip is just bizarre.

Simply put, there are some local businesses around Grand Forks-East Grand Forks that make me stop and wonder just what exactly someone was smoking thinking when they came up with the business's name.

How about Trojan Promotions in downtown Grand Forks?  A new visitor to our downtown might think we have a condom superstore right across from Town Square. Or what about People Barbers in the Grand Cities Mall?  Why do they feel the need to point out that they "barber" people?  What else would they be barbering?  Monkeys? Then there's He/She's Salon...Grand Forks' own transsexual hair salon.

And we wonder why small businesses have a tendency to fail from time to time!  What business names drive you nuts?

Allegiant Air starting service on Monday

On Monday, Allegiant Air, will debut its twice-weekly, non-stop flights between Las Vegas and Grand Forks International Airport.  (press release

The discount airline is utilizing 150-seat planes for the flights.  Allegiant Air has advertised one-way ticket prices as low as $99 between Grand Forks and Las Vegas.  However, a search of the airline's website shows ticket prices as low as $29 (Monday, October 6) and as high as $329 (Friday, December 5).

Are you excited to see Grand Forks finally getting service from another airline?  Are you planning to utilize these flights in the near future?  What other destinations would you like to see added by Allegiant or other potential airlines?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Friday, September 19, 2008

Hugo's to enter liquor business

Hugo's, Grand Forks' locally owned grocery store chain, will soon become the city's newest liquor retailer.  The company is applying for a Class 2 off-sale license from the city to operate a liquor store in a portion of the Hugo's on South Columbia Road.  Floor plans seem to show a liquor store with its own outside entrance and exit separate from the grocery store space.

What do you think of this news?  Do you think Hugo's will have success in the liquor business?  What does this mean for Grand Forks' locally owned chain of liquor stores, Happy Harry's?  Do you think that Hugo's is planning to add liquor stores to their other metro grocery stores?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Alerus Center's makeover

We've been hearing about the Alerus Center's plans for renovations the past couple of months now.  Currently, Alerus Center executive director Steve Hyman is asking for an additional $465, 569.83 from the city to fund exterior and interior renovations for this year.  Further renovations are being planned for next year and an additional financial request will be made at a later date to fund those plans. Take a look at the Alerus Center's 2008 plans in the city council packet for the upcoming September 15th city council meeting.

The plans for this year call for for new signage on the exterior of the center.  The "Alerus Center" signs will be moved to more prominent locations and a new "Alerus Center" sign will be added to the building's east side which faces 42nd Street.  Additionally, signage promoting the Alerus as the home of UND football will be added to the building's southwest corner.  Some landscaping will also take place outside.  Interior renovations for this year include new display walls in the center's lobby area.

Is this money well spent?  What other renovations or capital improvement projects would you like to see the Alerus Center undertake in upcoming years?

Friday, September 12, 2008

Alerus Center turning to "Plan B"

The Alerus Center commission and facility director Steve Hyman recently presented plans to spend millions of dollars remodeling portions of the interior and exterior of the building as part of the Alerus Center's plan to "reinvent" itself. Now, the reinventing seems to have moved beyond mere physical changes. The facility appears poised to debut a whole new genre of events.

"Plan B" is the name that the Alerus Center is giving to their new event format. The Alerus plans to create a new "nightclub style area" for smaller concerts. In the past, such concerts have often skipped over Grand Forks because the city had only very large-scale and very small-scale concert settings...bands that wanted to play more mid-sized venues in the region traditionally performed in places such as The Hub (previously Playmakers) in Fargo. Plan B will be able to take on different formats including a nightclub, a concert hall, or a cabaret.

According to a recent story in the Dakota Student, a Canadian rock band called Big Dick Cadillac is supposed to play at the new venue on October 11 with the U.S. band Lifehouse performing there on October 30. Interestingly, a cached version of the Alerus Center's website lists the October 11 concert, but the current version of the website lists no such concert. The October 30 concert isn't listed on either version.

What do you think of "Plan B?" Is it the kind of thing that Grand Forks needs? What types of concerts or other events would you like to see in Grand Forks? How about the other changes proposed at the Alerus Center? Would spending some money on the facility be a waste or a reasonable investment?

Friday, September 05, 2008

Open Thread #94

You guys really filled up that last open thread.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Open Thread #93

Anything interesting going on, guys?

Friday, August 29, 2008

New downtown projects

The Grand Forks office of Urban Development is working with private developers to get two new projects off the ground in downtown Grand Forks. At the same time, the city is developing a new program to assist future economic development projects such as these. (agenda)

The Marcil Group plans to invest $1.2 million to remodel the St. John's Block.  Their plans include remodeling space for the new Firkin Pub planned for the building and rehabbing nine apartments in the upper floors.

The old YWCA building across the street from Central High may soon be downtown's newest apartment development.  The building's owner, Mr. Steele Sacks, plans to convert the space into 25 new apartment units at a total cost of $2.03 million.

City staff at Urban Development is working with Bremer Bank to develop a "financial instrument" modeled after the Bank of North Dakota's PACE program for economic development.  The new program could assist these two downtown developments and future projects in the city's core.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Not a very formidable "Force"

The Fargo Force has revealed their new mascot...

I know...nothing really to do with Grand Forks, but just too good to pass up.

Thanks to SiouxSports.com for this story.

Open Thread #92

Here's a new open thread for the weekend. Keep it interesting and civil, guys!

Friday, August 22, 2008

New tenants for Columbia Mall?

It's been a while now since I uncovered GK Development's preliminary plans to redevelop the old Target space at Grand Forks' Columbia Mall, but so far no plans appear to be set in stone. Although it appears that a large bookstore may be headed for a portion of the space, even that has not yet been officially announced and no other potential tenants have been listed.

I've been doing some thinking about what stores and restaurants may possibly be headed for the new spaces that GK Development will likely lease out in the near future. I've come up with some tenants that I consider to be almost a "sure thing" and some other tenants which are more likely "possible" tenants or even just "long shots."

I'm thinking about stores that are located in other regional malls (think West Acres, Kirkwood, Dakota Square, Crossroads, Empire, etc.), but currently are not at Columbia Mall. It seems logical that if a chain has a location in Fargo and Bismarck (or even just in Fargo) that it is fairly plausible that they might be interested in an expanded and renovated Columbia Mall.

Below are a few thoughts that I have on potential tenants. Let me know what you think about these. Am I being realistic here? What other chains would you consider to be likely additions to Columbia Mall?

Almost a sure thing

Barnes and Noble
Abercrombie & Fitch
Coldwater Creek

New York and Company
Yankee Candle
Williams and Sonoma
Pottery Barn

Crate and Barrel
Cheesecake Factory

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Baby boutique coming to downtown

Downtown Grand Forks will soon be home to a new baby and maternity boutique named Adley Anne's.  The owner, Holly Schneider, will lease 4,500-5,000 square feet of space at 224 North 4th Street.  That building previously housed Cherished Moments, a wedding store which recently moved to the Grand Cities Mall.  Schneider has submitted a Renaissance Zone application which, if approved, would result in a five-year state income tax exemption.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Open Thread #91

What do you want to talk about, guys?

Clean up the front door!

First impressions are everything. When I go into a new restaurant or store, I immediately formulate opinions based on the overall look of the entryway. That may or may not be fair, but I think we all do it. Well, I think our "front door" needs some major sprucing up.

I feel that the I-29 interchange at 32nd Avenue South is the front door of sorts for our community...even more than the interchange at Gateway Drive. Thousands of people use this interchange everyday and many visitors to our city access our prime business corridor here.

In my opinion, this is a pretty ugly and poorly maintained first impression of our city. Have you driven over that overpass lately? The weeds are totally out of control...I really don't think they've seen the underside of a mower this year. The entire interchange is overgrown with weeds and dotted with trees that are either dead, half-dead, or very ugly because of years of neglect. The areas filled with "bushes" are really just areas filled with weeds. No weeding is ever done here.

Routine mowing, weeding, and the occasional planting of new trees and regular tree maintenance are not hard to do or overly expensive. Why is this area so neglected and why does the neglect appear to be getting worse with each passing year? Who is supposed to maintain this area and others like it? The city? The state? Someone is doing a very poor job.

If we truly want to be a "destination city," one of the most important (and easiest) things we can do is to spruce up our city's major entryways. The 32nd Avenue interchange is just the worst example; there are clearly other entryways that are in need of improvements. When I see these "front doors" to our city, I'm ashamed.

Monday, August 11, 2008

New poll: Greenway use

The new poll question is "How often do you use the Greenway?" and I'll be interested to hear from you guys on this one. Personally, I love practically everything about the Greenway, but I'm not always able to find the time to get out there and enjoy it as much as I would like. How about you? What parts of the Greenway are your favorite? Any room for improvement?

Poll results: Hello Allegiant Air!

The old poll question was "Will you use Allegiant Air's new flight from GFK to Las Vegas?" and, with over 130 votes, the result is a strong "yes" from readers. In fact, 70% of readers polled answered that they are likely to use Allegiant in the future. (results)

Likely to use 70%97
Not likely to use 20%27
Unsure 10%14
138 votes total

Friday, August 08, 2008

New blog: Touring Grand Forks

I'm pleased to announce that the Grand Forks blogosphere has added another blogger to its ranks recently. Touring Grand Forks is the name of a new blog by a UND student named "JP" who is sharing his discoveries from along the city's extensive bike path system.

From the blog:

Basically, I'm going to ride my bike around different parts of Grand Forks every day (hopefully) and detail my experiences (with pictures!). I'm hoping to see all kinds of crazy things as I explore every corner of Grand Forks, all while getting in shape at the same time. I'm using this blog as motivation to stay active. It should be stated that I'm by no means an experienced bicyclist...or blogger for that matter.
I must admit that I too am a devotee of our metropolitan area's system of trails. In my book, there isn't an urban system like this anywhere else in the region. I think this is something that we should be truly proud of as a city. While JP uses his bicycle to explore our trails, I am a walker. I have been known to take four or five mile walks along the Greenway and on other city trails and paths. I look forward to reading JP's blog. Check it out!

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Open Thread #90

What's on your mind? Heard any good rumors or interesting stories lately?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

New restaurants may be coming to 32nd Avenue

According to a tipster, that empty lot in front of the Kohl's development on 32nd Avenue may not be empty for much longer. Over the last few years, there has been lots of talk about what restaurant should or would eventually end up building on this lot. After all, this is one of the last few empty lots on 32nd between I-29 and Columbia Road.

My tipster claims that plans have been filed with the city for a new Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant on this property. The tipster also says that, in addition to the wing restaurant, a Subway restaurant will also be included in the building.

Of course, Buffalo Wild Wings already has a Grand Forks location about half a mile away from this 32nd Avenue location. No word on what would become of that existing location, but I would have to think that it would close after the new restaurant opens up.

So what do you think of this apparent development coming to this particular piece of property? Had you hoped for a different restaurant for this spot? Do we really need a new Buffalo Wild Wings? How about a Subway...after all, their website lists 10 locations in GF/EGF...do we need another? Let me know what you think.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Open Thread #89

I was out of town for most of the past week so I'm sorry about the lack of updates. Here's an open thread...have fun and be nice!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Grand Forks Starbucks will not close

The local Grand Forks Starbucks locations will not be closing as a result of the company's recent announcement of 600 domestic store closures. The only North Dakota location that will close is a Starbucks located at the intersection of 13th Avenue South and 25th Street in Fargo.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Open Thread #88

Summer in the city. What's on your mind?

Is Grand Forks ugly?

My answer is a resounding NO. I personally think Grand Forks is easily the most attractive larger city in the state and the region. Sure, there are some "ugly" parts of town...like portions of Gateway Drive. However, I see those areas as exceptions to the rule. Really, even our "ugly" areas aren't so bad when compared with those found in most other cities.

When I think of Grand Forks, I think of a city that for the most part clearly cares about its appearance. One of the first things I think about are the city's tree lined streets. Sure, most cities have large trees in their older neighborhoods. Grand Forks, however, has trees all over town...even the newest areas of the city have trees lining the streets. I think of all of the stately old homes that, for the most part, have been kept up throughout the years and together form a real sense of "place" for the community. I think of the outstanding campus located right in the heart of Grand Forks. I see the grounds of UND as easily the most attractive urbanized area in the state.

Even 32nd Avenue South with its big box stores and large parking lots is an attractive corridor in my eye. The buildings are set back from the street and the parking lots are interspersed with islands of grass and trees. 13th Avenue South in Fargo may have a few more shopping and dining options, but that corridor makes me think of one giant parking lot. Don't get me wrong...I think of Fargo as a very attractive city too. However, I would still rank it as below my own fair city.

There is always room for improvement. Clearly there are many offending properties and area of town and I wish so badly that they would be forced to clean up their act. Seeing a business with foot-tall grass and weeds out in front or garbage littering our city's major streets drives me nuts. However, I still am a bit dumbfounded when someone makes a sweeping comment such as "Grand Forks is an ugly town." It might not be perfect, but "ugly" it ain't!

How do you see Grand Forks? Is it ugly? Is it attractive? What improvements or changes do you think would make the city better looking? How would you rank the city's appearance with other regional cities?

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Grand Forks growth compared with Fargo

Can it be? Is it possible? Grand Forks gained more people and grew at a rate more than twice that of Fargo's growth rate between the years 2000-2007?

It's true.

Sure, plenty of people made fun of the story that ran in the Grand Forks Herald this past week proclaiming that Grand Forks gained 70 people last year. Big deal, huh? However, look beyond last year's figures to the past decade worth of figures and the numbers are much more interesting.

From 2000-2007, Fargo gained 2,061 people for a growth rate of 2.3% while Grand Forks gained 2,419 people for a rate of 4.9%. (Fargo Forum article)

We do have to keep in mind that these numbers come from the Census Bureau which many people feel has a history of undercounting local populations. Also, obviously populations are in constant shift and a few years worth of data don't necessarily mean that much.

However, there is something that I find very interesting about these numbers. These numbers cover a period when Fargo was considered to be the economic powerhouse of the region and during the same time when Grand Forks was a city recovering from the region's worst natural disaster in modern history and major reductions at the Air Force base which is so integral to the city's economy.

Under those circumstances, which city do you think would be the logical leader in growth? I just find it very interesting that Grand Forks not only held its own, but beat Fargo in both growth rate and number of new residents.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Future of the library

The recent death of longtime Grand Forks Public Library director Dennis Page has once again brought the topic of our local library to the community's attention. The current library building was built in 1972 and has certainly started to show its age. It is cramped and very outdated in many respects.

Fellow blogger Tu-Uyen Tran had a great story about the library's future in the Herald and on his blog last year. According to Tu-Uyen, remodeling the current library would cost about $1-$2 million and a brand new library would be just under $10 million.

Fargo is in the process of building a new main library building. The downtown structure will be two stories and will contain over 54,000 square feet. In my opinion, the current Grand Forks library is actually much nicer than the old Fargo library, but the new Fargo library will be a far cry from the 1972 Grand Forks building.

I know Grand Forks has been accused of copying Fargo (and vice versa), but improving public libraries is something that I'm happy to be accused of copying. I feel that we shouldn't let Fargo beat us in this area. I feel that we must start planning to improve our community's library facilities.

Do you think that the Grand Forks Public Library is in need of some major changes? How often do you currently use the library? Would you be more likely to use the library if it was extensively remodeled and/or expanded? How about building a brand new library? If that option was chosen, where would you like to see a new main library building go? How about branch libraries...are there any areas of Grand Forks that you think could stand to have a branch library?

Open Thread #87

Miscellaneous topics go here, folks. And we're off...

New poll: GFK to Vegas

It's about time for a new poll, huh? The new question is "Will you use Allegiant Air's new flight from GFK to Las Vegas?" I'll be interested to hear from you guys. I would also like to hear about other possible destinations that you're interested in.

Poll results: More housing for downtown

Time to close the old poll question "Which Civic Auditorium redevelopment plan do you support?" Most respondents seem to think more housing for the downtown area is a better option than remodeling the old auditorium into retail space. (results)

Which Civic Auditorium redevelopment plan do you support?
Tearing it down and replacing it with a mixed-use development 75%88

Remodeling it into space for HB Light and Sound and other tenants
117 votes total

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Local Starbucks closing?

Yesterday, Starbucks announced that it will be closing 600 "underperforming" domestic stores (Herald story). The shutdowns will start immediately and continue until early next year. Previously, the company had said that they would only be closing around 100 stores.

I'm wondering what this means for the local Starbucks locations. Will a Grand Forks store or stores close as a result of this announcement? Are any of these stores considered to be "underperformers?"

I do need to make a correction to the Herald story. The article says that Starbucks operates Grand Forks locations on South Washington Street, 32nd Avenue South, in SuperTarget, and in the UND Barnes and Noble bookstore. This isn't exactly accurate.

The SuperTarget location is considered to be a Starbucks, but it is staffed by Target employees. It looks very much like a "real" Starbucks, but it technically is not a regular Starbucks location and I'm not sure that any of the Target Starbucks locations throughout the country will be closing as a result of this announcement.

Also, the Barnes and Noble cafe is not a Starbucks at all. It isn't even called Starbucks...it's the Barnes and Noble Tower Cafe. They merely serve Starbucks coffee. This announcement really has no impact on the Tower Cafe's future.

Are there any local Starbucks employees out there that know anything about the status of the local Starbucks locations?

Monday, June 30, 2008

The end of the Kupchella era

Today is Charles Kupchella's last day as president of the University of North Dakota. Tomorrow, the Kupchellas will move back to Pennsylvania and Dr. Robert Kelley will officially become UND's eleventh president.

Kupchella has been UND's leader since 1999 and has presided over an eventful period in the institution's history. From research to the Ralph, from flood recovery to enrollment growth, and from strategic planning to unceasing debates over words and imagery...Kupchella had an interesting presidency.

The Grand Forks Herald and the Fargo Forum both had editorials about Kupchella's time at UND. Interestingly, the Forum's sendoff of Kupchella was truly glowing when compared with the "fair and balanced" Herald editorial.

What will you remember about Dr. Kupchella? What is his legacy at UND? Was he a good president? What do you hope to see in President Kelley?

Sunday, June 29, 2008

I want you!

I'm going to try something new here. In the past, I've put together all of the posts on this blog and you readers have only had a chance to have your voices heard in the subsequent comment sections. Starting now, I'm going to introduce occasional reader generated content to this blog.

The first reader generated content I'm introducing is something that I hope will be popular and fun. You know how we all love talking about the local dining scene so much? Well, now you can review a local restaurant and potentially have that review show up on this blog.

So what am I looking for here? Well, a good review should include some specifics (restaurant, day/time, menu items ordered) and some generics (your overall opinion of the restaurant, its prices, its menu, its service, and its atmosphere). Refer to the apparently defunct Grand Cities Dining blog for inspiration. Oh yes...please feel free to elaborate on the quality of the restaurant's napkins if you so desire.

Keep in mind that a publishable review should be of an appropriate length (not too short or too long). Also, I reserve the right to make spelling, grammatical, or syntactical changes. Reviews should be sent to: grandforkslife@yahoo.com

Marilyn Hagerty, watch out!

Update - 7/9/2008 - 12:10 AM
So no one wants to review a local dining establishment? What made everyone clam up?

Friday, June 27, 2008

Open Thread #86

And just what interesting directions will this open thread take?

Friday, June 20, 2008

Another sign of summer

The Town Square Farmer's Market returns for its 8th season this Saturday. The Market is held every Saturday (rain or shine) from 9 AM -2 AM until September 27. This Saturday, Penumbra will play from 10:30-1:30. Next Saturday will bring a free petting zoo for the kids. The Market is held in the Town Square at the intersection of Demers Avenue and South Third Street in downtown Grand Forks.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

GF Dining Thread #2

The first dining thread had a great response. Since you guys just LOVE talking about restaurants, here's another dining thread. Enjoy!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Wish list for Columbia Mall

Now that we know GK Development is planning to renovate the old Target space at Columbia Mall and turn it into multiple stores and restaurants, I've been thinking about what could go in all of those spaces. What would you like to see in Columbia Mall? Are there any shopping or dining chains you would like to see in these spaces? Please share your wish lists!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Open Thread #84

Here's a new open thread. Now you can stop putting random comments in posts about specific things like Columbia Mall or Carrie Underwood. That's just annoying!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Carrie Underwood coming to GF

Another "Idol" is coming to the Ralph. American Idol alum Carrie Underwood and Little Big Town have scheduled a concert at Ralph Engelstad Arena for September 27.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

The new Columbia Mall

Columbia Mall appears set for a major renovation and redevelopment project which may bring new life to the 30 year old mall. Columbia Mall's owners, GK Development, have drawn up what can only be called impressive plans to totally renovate and reconfigure the space formerly occupied by Target and establish it as a new "lifestyle center" sort of addition to the mall.

According to GK's website:
A new 90,000 sf renovation will bring more retail, restaurants and specialty options to enhance the real shopping experience at Columbia Mall. Bringing the outdoors in, GK Development, Inc. will create an extraordinary space - including a bright, enclosed atrium roof as a highlight - showcasing many more exciting places to shop, eat and play. Changes will also take place on the exterior, where the renovation will include beautiful streetscaping and enhanced entrances to those retailers.

Some readers may remember that I had a post back in February in which I discussed potential plans for the old Target space. At that time, I mentioned options for this space which appear to be similar to what we are seeing in GK's plans. I have to say that I was "thinking big" when I talked about those plans back in February...I didn't necessarily think that such a "grand" redevelopment of the old Target space would take place. Clearly, I wasn't the only one thinking big.

These are impressive plans and they look quiite a bit like a "lifestyle center." Currently, there is nothing like this in the region. The plans appear to show a variety of retail and restaurant spaces - about 23 leasable spaces of varying sizez - with a variety of both interior and exterior entrances. Even West Acres in Fargo has no development quite like this. In fact, am I the only one thinking that the "new" Columbia Mall could be really giving West Acres some much needed competition in the not too distant future?

I find it interesting that, back in February, many of us were talking about the need for a large new bookstore in the mall. You may be happy to see that the floorplans for the space show a 27,900 square foot space labeled simply as "Books." I'm guessing that, in order for GK Development to actually label that space, they have a tenant already lined up. My guess? Almost certainly a brand new Barnes and Noble...a "real" Barnes and Noble for Grand Forks.

As someone who has fond memories of shopping at Columbia Mall starting as a small child back in the 1980s, I've been sad to see it get quieter, less exciting, and a little neglected in recent years. I personally think that, if these plans are actually put into place, Columbia Mall may just become as exciting as the mall I remember as a child...maybe even much more so.

And what in the world are those big buildings that appear west of the old Target space in the above rendering? They look like a new hotel and some sort of giant movie theater complex if you ask me. Very interesting!

GFK plans forthcoming

A reliable source tells me that the plans for the new Grand Forks International Airport terminal will be released within the next week or two. What are you hoping to see in this new structure? Will a new terminal make you more likely to use GFK in the future?

DLG set to disband

I've been informed that the Downtown Leadership Group (or DLG) will be disbanding after this year's Grand Cities ArtFest. According to the group's website, the DLG "is dedicated to development and promotion of downtown Grand Forks and East Grand Forks." Formed in the wake of the flood of 1997 to pump new life into the downtown areas, the DLG has evolved into a group whose focus is almost exclusively to organize the annual ArtFest. According to my source, the North Valley Arts Council (or NOVAC) will oversee the ArtFest in future years.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Draft Holiday Lighting Plan

Gone are the days of those faded, disintegrating red bells popping up on Grand Forks street lights each December. There have been plenty of complaints about the city's Christmas (or, to be PC, Holiday) decorations for some time now and the city is finally drawing up plans to spruce up its act. A draft plan has been devised which could see an entirely new holiday lighting program put into place in the near future.

According to the plan, the city's goals are to highlight Grand Forks' major commercial areas, develop a consistent theme, focus on high-impact high-efficiency displays, and encourage displays by private businesses.

In addition to the existing downtown lighting program, the plan calls for focusing the city's efforts to major commercial corridors including: Columbia Road from 32nd Avenue to Gateway Drive, Demers from the interstate to downtown, Gateway from the river to 55th Street, Washington from 32nd Avenue to Gateway, and 32nd Avenue from the interstate to Washington. The plan also raises the possibility of future expansion into newer commercial areas such as 42nd Street.

As far as developing a consistent theme, the plan calls for a white-light-based theme throughout the city. This would mimic the theme that already exists downtown and would make the decorations able to be used throughout the winter. The plan also mentions that this theme would make some of the decorations able to be used for other holidays or events throughout the year such as the July 4th celebration or ArtFest. Also, I might point out that white lights are very non-denominational.

The draft plan calls for a smaller number of impressive displays throughout the city instead of a more spread out "ho-hum" display. Such displays could include "intensely" lighted clusters of trees. Whatever type of displays are put up, the city plans to use LEDs in all decorations.

Finally, the plans would encourage private businesses to put up their own displays. The plan mentions the possibility of a one-time give away of light sets to businesses to encourage private displays. The city may also hold a lighting contest as another means to encourage businesses to light up.

As someone who loves Christmas and the whole holiday season, I'm excited to see what the city comes up with here. This plans sounds pretty good to me. What do you think?

Monday, June 02, 2008

Another hotel for 42nd Street

42nd Street is quickly turning into Grand Forks' newest hotel district. In the past year, roughly 300 hotel rooms have been added to the 42nd Street corridor. The 200-room Canad Inn "destination center" complex opened its doors last summer and the 100-room Country Inn and Suites will do so this summer.

Now comes word that another hotel is on its way to this area of town. Visim LLP is planning a new hotel for the northeast corner of South 42nd Street and 29th Avenue South. Visim is connected to a Grand Forks hotel development and management firm called Yellowstone Management. Yellowstone owns and operates several hotels in Grand Forks including the Holiday Inn Express, C'mon Inn, and the new Country Inn and Suites.

So even before their new Country Inn and Suites opens its doors, Yellowstone/Vism appears to be planning for yet another hotel in the city. No word yet on the brand or size of the hotel. Has anyone heard anything about this project? Do you think we're starting to have an over abundance of hotel rooms or do you think we could stand to have even more hotels constructed in town?

Update - 6/5/2008 - 11:50 PM
This blog broke the story on Monday and now the Grand Forks Herald has an article confirming the construction of a SpringHill Suites by Marriott.

Valvoline to expand, become Tire One

The Valvoline Instant Oil Change location on 32nd Avenue South in the Grand Forks Marketplace will soon have a new name. The location is being rebranded as a Tire One store. The building will also undergo an expansion.

Open Thread #83

Go for it!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The future

It's some of the biggest economic development news that this city has ever experienced. The Marcil Group of Fargo has finalized its purchase of nearly 600 acres of land owned by longtime local farmer and Grand Forks real estate developer Art Greenberg. The land tracts are located on the southern side of Grand Forks and sit on both sides of I-29. The Marcil Group won't disclose just how much this deal is worth, but a local realtor estimates a value of at least $15 million. Read Ryan Schuster's article in Thursday's Herald and check out his blog post. Also, check out the Marcil Group's press release.

So why is a land sale such a news story? Well, for one thing, the size of this land purchase is almost unprecedented in this region. Simply the sale of this much land in the backyard of a city like Grand Forks is a story in and of itself. When was the last time nearly 600 acres of land was "put into play" at one time in Grand Forks or for that matter any other North Dakota city?

The other story here is the plan that Marcil is drawing up for this land. The Marcil Group will not sit back and wait for developers to approach them before they sell off the land in a slow, piecemeal fashion. Instead, Marcil has bold plans to develop this land over the next decade or so and, in turn, create a major expansion of Grand Forks and inject a major boost to the local economy. And, yes, we're talking MAJOR. This is literally "the next 32nd Avenue."

It appears that Marcil is placing a major emphasis on commercial uses in their early plans for the land. I think that is a great idea because, currently, there are few remaining tracts of land bordering the city that can easily be developed into commercial uses. This is something that has worried me in the past. I've been concerned that Grand Forks' economy could be stunted because we don't have enough commercial land readily available. In my opinion, this has now been taken care of with one stroke of the pen.

However, we're not talking about just a new shopping mall or sea of strip malls here. Sure, there probably will be plenty of big box stores ultimately developed in this land, but this land will also see residential, public, and possibly even some industrial uses. This land will ultimately become entirely new neighborhoods of Grand Forks.

Expect to hear plenty more about this in the local news and in future blog posts here. This story isn't going to go away.

Open Thread #82

It's summer!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Open Thread #81

A new open thread...ready for business!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Reba and Kelly coming to the Ralph

According to pollstar.com, country superstar Reba McEntire and the original American Idol Kelly Clarkson will bring their "2 Worlds 2 Voices" joint concert tour to Grand Forks this fall. The two will perform at the Ralph Engelstad Arena on October 23.

What would you change?

You may have noticed a few small changes in the appearance of Grand Forks Life. A few of the fonts and colors have been changed and I added a "Recent comments" box. Nothing major here, folks...just a few little changes.

This made me think about the overall design of GFL. I wonder if there is anything that you would change about the blog's appearance if you could? Would you arrange the sidebar differently? Would you change the size of a particular font? Do you think there are too many posts on the main page or not enough? I want your opinions and constructive criticism.

Please keep in mind that I'm no expert at web design so I'm not able to implement anything too groundbreaking here. I am more than happy to make small changes if the community of readers wants them.

This can even go beyond mere appearance to the content of GFL itself. What types of threads do you like the most? What areas should I be focusing on? I think feedback is the best way to know what this blog is doing right and what it is doing wrong.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Milo Smith's new blog

WDAZ's Milo Smith has a new blog, Milo's Turf Tips. The blog is about "the quest for the perfect lawn." Good luck with the lawn and the blog, Milo!

Wonder why Forum Communications didn't make Milo use their AreaVoices blogging platform for his new blog?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

New poll: Civic Auditorium choices

Time for a new poll question: "Which Civic Auditorium redevelopment plan do you support?"

Poll results: Brown's chances

Time to close the poll question "Would you support Michael Brown for a third term as GF mayor?" (results)

Selection Votes
Yes 50%99
No 41%82
Undecided 9%17
198 votes total

What do you think of the results?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

President Kelly's new digs

Here's a first look at what the new University of North Dakota President's House will look like when completed later this year. UND's new President, Robert Kelly, and his wife will be the home's first inhabitants. The new house is being built on roughly the same spot as the old presidential house. A new Alumni Center will be built adjacent to the house in the near future.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Open Thread #80

It's a new week and I'm sure you have plenty to talk about.

Mooddyz Bar and Casino

A new business by the name of Mooddyz Bar and Casino may soon open in the former Westward Ho building. Currently, the only business in the former entertainment complex is the Northside Cafe.

The bar's request for a liquor license has been at least temporarily denied due to the way in which one of the potential owners answered the question "Have you ever been convicted of any crime, in this or in any other state, or under Federal Law?" in the liquor license paperwork.

In the paperwork, the man reported a 1979 arrest for marijuana possession, but according to the Grand Forks Police Department's Criminal Investigation Bureau, he failed to report several other crimes. These include a 1998 arrest and conviction for DUI, a 2005 arrest and conviction for reckless driving, and a 2005 arrest and conviction for harassment.

Mooddyz is appealing the liquor license application denial at this evening's Service and Safety Standby Committee. Check out the meeting packet which contains all of this and more information.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Plans for "new downtown"

A year has passed since I first shared my vision for a "bigger and better" downtown Grand Forks. To sum up my proposal, I think the current geographic size of downtown Grand Forks is too small for a city of our size and much too small for the city I think we will become in the next few decades.

In my earlier post, I proposed an expansion of downtown to the west. Now comes word that Grand Forks city staff and JLG Architects have been working on a plan to expand downtown in the very direction that I was talking about. Check out Ryan Schuster's great blog post about these plans. I'm not foolish enough to think that my earlier plan was the inspiration for this new plan, but I am very pleased to see a plan very similar to my own presented to our elected officials, the media, and to the citizens.

My earlier plan

The new plan

I'm very excited to see bold plans like this put forth. I think this is both a doable project and a necessary project. Downtown Grand Forks has plenty going for it these days...some of us just think that making downtown bigger might also make it a whole lot better. What do you think?

Friday, May 02, 2008

Open Thread #79

Here's a new open thread for the weekend, kids.

Have fun at Springfest if you go...but leave the fiery couches at home, please.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

GF Dining Thread #1

Nothing gets you guys talking more than a discussion of the local dining scene. Why not start up a special category of threads akin to the "open threads" that you're all familar with? I thought it would be fun to give it a try.

Here's a chance for you to share your opinions of the local dining scene. Perhaps you would like to review a particular restaurant? Maybe you have an interesting tidbit of restaurant-related news or gossip that other readers would like to hear?

Go ahead...pretend that you're Marilyn Hagerty.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

A hole in the heart

With all this talk about downtown construction, I'm thinking of places in the downtown district that could someday soon be the site of new developments.

We've been hearing about the potential redevelopment of the Civic Auditorium site. That site, located on the western fringe of downtown, could help to push the boundaries of what we consider to be downtown. I'm all for that - I've talked extensively about our need to "expand" downtown both up and out.

Another potential development site comes to mind...except this one is not located in the fringes, but in the very heart of downtown. The corner of Demers Avenue and 4th Street has always been a very important intersection downtown and the post-flood construction of the Corporate Center and the renovation of the old First National Bank Building - now dubbed 322 Demers - has further reinforced that particular intersection's prominence.

Still, that corner is not as built-up as it could be. Two of the corners are anchored by the Corporate Center and 322 Demers takes up a third corner, but the fourth corner is still vacant more than a decade after post-flood cleanup saw the demolition of the lot's previous occupant.

Empty lot in the heart of downtown

If memory serves me correctly, the current owner of the 322 Demers building once owned the empty lot in question. I'm not sure if that is still the case. Either way, perhaps the time has come for the redevelopment of this empty lot - this "hole" in the heart of Grand Forks.

So I'm asking you, my readers, what would you like to see built on this lot. Would you like to see another commercial building on this intersection? How about yet another residential building for downtown? Perhaps condos instead of apartments so the building could be built higher? How about a mixed-use building? Would you like to see new skyways built to connect the new building to the existing buildings and thus create a loop around the busy intersection?

Let's brainstorm.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Laffen explains issues with taller buildings

Downtown Grand Forks has become a fairly vibrant district in the last couple of years. There are new restaurants, bars, and new housing developments. Indeed, housing downtown seems to have become a very hot commodity. Recently, the Metropolitan Opera House building was converted into the Opera House Lofts and new construction took place in the form of the Elite Brownstones condominium development and The Current Apartments. However, some readers of this blog have questioned why these new buildings weren't built taller. If there is such demand for housing downtown, why not build up instead of just out?

According to prominent local architect Lonnie Laffen of JLG Architects, the reason why we aren't seeing taller buildings downtown essentially boils down to the higher costs that such buildings require. Most of the new housing recently built and currently planned for downtown is in the form of apartments and, as Laffen puts it, "The rents that apartments can support dictate wood frame construction. Wood frame can only go four stories due to shrinkage. After four stories the overall shrinkage gets to be too high and difficult to manage." Also, Laffen says that "Once you go over five [stories] you need pilings for the foundation which is very expensive."

However, Laffen doesn't rule out taller buildings: "I agree that it would be fun to do a higher structure. It would have to be condos because they command more money per square foot to support more expensive construction required to do multi-story. I know there is a great demand for a product like this. I think we are ready but I need to find the right developer."

So now we have a better idea of why taller buildings haven't been constructed so far in this recent period of downtown construction. Most of the new construction has been in the form of housing and as Laffen has explained, typical apartment rents simply are not able to bring in the kind of money needed to go beyond the four or five story height.

Perhaps if interest in downtown continues, we will see the development of taller condo developments or even taller commercial buildings. Here's another thought - if apartments on their own can't support a taller building, how about a mix of apartments, condos, and commercial space in the same building? What do you readers think? Would you like to see taller buildings rising from the downtown skyline in the near future?

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Open Thread #78

160+ freakin' comments in just a few days?!? You guys are nuts.

So...will this one be about the weather, hate crimes, restaurants, or grammar?

Just be nice, people.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Open Thread #77


Is the Coulee really so bad?

UND student Dave Barta has put three years worth of effort into devising a plan to clean up the English Coulee. On Sunday, Barta presented his plan to the UND Student Senate and members of the city council. The plan, which carries a price tag of $330,000, would clean up the small stream that winds through the city of Grand Forks and the UND campus (Herald article). According to Barta, the English Coulee "is a drain to the community" and "looks and smells gross."

I'm excited to see another young person who, like me, has a keen interest in improving life in this community. I'm sure Barta has put a tremendous amount of effort and research into this and he deserves our utmost attention. I just wonder if the English Coulee is really such a "drain to the community" after all.

I have always thought the English Coulee is a tremendous asset to the city. As a former UND student, I have had very close contact with the Coulee on a day-to-day basis. I also am an avid walker who has spent many a spring or summer night taking long walks along the paths bordering the Coulee.

I have honestly never noticed a persistent bad smell that can be associated with the stream. Sure, the Coulee - like most bodies of water - can have a bit of a "funky" smell at certain times of the year, but I think that is a fairly rare occurrence and I always thought of it as nothing so out of the ordinary.

As far as looking bad, I have always thought just the opposite of the English Coulee. The stream meanders its way through the UND campus and - while it's true that the water is not actively flowing at all times of the year - I never think it looks so bad. In fact, I have always found the Coulee and all of the diverse vegetation bordering it as one of the most picturesque parts of this community.

Over the years, the city has developed the area along the English Coulee as a miniature "greenway" of sorts. Now that we have the massive Red River greenway, I see one giant system of green space and bike paths that any city of Grand Forks' size would be envious of.

I would be happy to see some money spent to clean up the English Coulee if that's what it really needs. I just worry a little that altering the English Coulee could hurt what I see as a real asset - not a drain - to the community. Would implementing this plan hurt the vegetation or natural setting of the Coulee?

Do I just have rose colored glasses? What do you think of the English Coulee? Is it an asset or a "drain" to the community?

Friday, April 18, 2008

Open Thread #76

Threads with 80+ comments just get too cumbersome to navigate...so here's a fresh open thread for y'all. Have fun and keep it clean.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Open Thread #75

Wow...75 open threads. Make this a good one!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

I Love Grand Forks #3

"I Love Grand Forks" is making a comeback. Now is the time for you to share a few more of the reason that make life in Grand Forks good. Why do you love Grand Forks?

Here's just one thing about Grand Forks that I love: our bike paths. Grand Forks has a larger system of bike paths than just about any other city in the region and it only grows larger with each passing year. The addition of the miles and miles of paths in the Greenway has made the system of trails nothing short of incredible. I don't actually ride a bike on the paths...I'm a walker. I love this time of year because I know that very soon I will set out on long excursions in the evenings. I love the many different paths in this city...from the Greenway paths, to the paths along the English Coulee, to the paths that cut through many of the residential neighborhoods in town. I feel lucky to live in a city that has put such an emphasis on a good system of paths and trails.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

New poll: Another term for Brown?

Time for a new poll question: "Would you support Michael Brown for a third term as GF mayor?" I'll be interested to see how this vote turns out and to read what you have to say about the upcoming mayoral race.

Poll results: New uses for Target space

According to the results from the recent poll question "What would you like to see go in the old Target space?", many people would like a book store to set up shop in the long vacant space at Columbia Mall. (results)

Book store 100 votes
Cinema 25 votes
Department store 72 votes
Grocery store 30 votes
Restaurants 65 votes
Small stores 77 votes
Other (discuss) 32 votes
268 voters