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?

59 comments:

Jimmie said...

Speaking of the Opera House lofts, whatever happened to what is going in the bottom floor there? Every time I go by there, it looks the same...half-finished construction site. You'd never know there were swanky apartment residences upstairs. (Disclaimer: I haven't walked by since last fall, so I don't know if anything happened there this winter.) Anyone?

Matthew said...

Hasn't changed recently, it's still bare-bones inside.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

I think the downtown are could use some growth. Not in the form of yet another bar, but with a variety of other new businesses. Commercial rent downtown is too expensive though. There is a lot of empty real estate that has been vacant for years.

jwgreen said...

With all the new housing, a small grocery store would be nice, and there would probably be enough market for it.

naturalplastics said...

I work for a foundation enginnering place, and your intro was spot on about the pile foundations.

Our pile depth around here can be up to 200 feet, which is insane for an apartment building. Sorry to say, but soils around here suck for foundations.

Anonymous said...

I would love to see a grocery store downtown, but is it feasible? With the rents being what they are downtown and the profit margins of a grocery store it would be difficult.

gfyourself said...

Are rents high downtown? I thought rents were pretty reasonable, even cheap. Isn't the problem lack of customer traffic and parking? Businesses will pay about any level of rent if the sales prospects are good (see Columbia Mall).

Anonymous said...

How about building a Walmart Superstore downtown? Then I wouldn't have to drive to the one now, I could walk.

Anonymous said...

I just heard that oil may be $180-$200 a barrel in the next two/three years, resulting in $7-$8/gallon gas prices.
Nice to know, huh? Imagine the ripple effects of that! Imagine what our children's world will be like?
That's why I refuse to have children. People call me "selfish", but actually I think I made the right decision.

Anonymous said...

Good for you in not having any kids. I often get the impression that some parents are selfish and egotistic when it comes to having children and do not consider where an ever-increasing population will leave the world down the road.

Anonymous said...

Its awesome how the reasonable and intelligent people refuse to have kids and the average size of urban welfare families is about 5 kids. Although its a terrible movie, go watch "Idiocracy" for an idea of where all that will end.

Smart, hardworking, and successful people should have MORE children, not less.

Anonymous said...

"Smart, hardworking, and successful people should have MORE children."

And I'd add NON-RACIST to that list of qualifiers!

Anonymous said...

You mean outbreed the breeders?

Anonymous said...

It's gonna happen. Get used to it. I heard on the radio the other day that blonde hair is going to be more and more scarce. Except in the northern midwest (and maybe say Sweden) which consequently makes me wonder a bit.. Admit it, we are all going to mix together eventually.

Anonymous said...

This thread took an interesting turn...

Anonymous said...

GFG, do you really think a developer throws up a highrise building and then puts up a "for lease" or "for sale" sign? Jeesh, it doesn't happen that way. Research "pre sales" and "pre leasing". These are contractual agreements that are entered into BEFORE commercial sites are developed. These are primarily conditions and qualifications to obtain financing. So, the long and short of your thread is, no demand to support the building(s) you dream about. In fact, it's just plain silly. Probably not happening in your lifetime.

PartTime said...

Cost, I don't doubt that it is one of the main factors in any kind of building. Cost, would be a factor no matter where or what town you build in, yet, other towns seem to get the taller buildings built where as Grand Forks continues to build the two, three and four story brick buildings. Cost, is why the Columbia road overpass was propossed as a four lane but built as a two lane (later expanded to four lane). Cost, is why the Alerus Center after being voted on and passing, it was suggested by one of our city council (won't mention his name), to downsize the arena to cut cost.........They say the Alerus in the near future will not be big enough for UND football the way it is. Cost, is why the new GF airport terminal was propossed as a two story terminal, but is being built as a one story to cut costs. I guess what I'm trying to point out here is that there is such a thing as building for the future and building it right the first time.

Anonymous said...

PartTime hit the nail directly on the head when he/she said we should do it right the first time and build for the future. There are many expensive examples of that not happening here in GFK.
Of course it had a lot to do with the politics involved in getting it approved. In the end GFK got what it needed, but it cost a lot more money than if it had been done right in the first place. Remember this the next time there is a vote on a project, or you are calling your council person if the vote is in the council. The county jail is a good example to vote no, but in the end that was because of the commission not getting truthful information. Someone should have gone to jail over that.

Anonymous said...

Are you last two posters confusing the public and private sector? The answer is yes.

Jeesh

Elucidarian said...

"urban welfare families" = RACIST comment?

Anyhoo, I'm a parent three times over. Yes, the population of the world is an issue, and yes there could be a struggle for resources especially should the climate take a nose dive, and yes, Yes, YES, I worry about the future my kids will have. This is why I educate them to the problems they may face so they are more apt to be part of the solution, not the problem. I don't know what constitutes "smart, hardworking, and successful," but I am conscientious and committed to the road ahead. Let's hope it counts.

Anonymous said...

There is a grocery store downtown. It's called Amazing Grains. It has all the staples of a standard grocery store plus an awesome deli and juice bar.

Anonymous said...

Will The Current's ground floor apartments be advertised as "pre-puked" and "pre-whizzed"?

It's truly sad what downtown Grand Forks has become.

Matthew said...

anonymous 9:43, why the attacks? It's obvious that GFG knows that it costs more money to build taller buildings--that's what the post was about. I think he's trying to drum up public support for such buildings, which will lead to investors thinking it's a viable idea, which will lead to proposing the idea to potential tenants/other investors, which will lead to enough money being raised to build a taller building.

It's a dream, yes, but you can't start anything unless you raise the question in the first place.

Anonymous said...

"It's truly sad what downtown Grand Forks has become."

Wow- Talk about a glass half empty. I think it's encouraging what downtown GF is BECOMING. Every downtown renaissance goes through a series of steps as it transforms and repopulates itself and GF is no exception. Call them growing pains if you like.

Anonymous said...

I would hesitate to call Amazing Grains a grocery store. Yes, they sell groceries, but they are all specialty and the prices are way, way out of line. I do shop there to a point, but the last time I got something stale I have cut way back on my purchases. I even hate to say that, but it is true.

Elucidarian said...

"Amazing Grains ... they are all specialty and the prices are way, way out of line"

I wouldn't call food staples specialty. Also, if you look at the pricing of a particular product from Grains to Hugo's, Target, etc., you'll find the prices are equitable. Those products may be slightly more expensive than other, more "mainstream" brands, but often you're paying for the benefits of health, which is hard to argue.

Anonymous said...

Is this the hood?

Anonymous said...

Is this the hood?

Kelly Clow said...

"It's truly sad what downtown Grand Forks has become."

I would venture to say that you probably don't remember what Downtown looked like before the flood.

As a high school kid, I used to go to rehearsals for the Fire Hall's annual musicals at the dance studio above the old City Center Mall, and we were required to leave in groups after dark because the homeless population were so deeply entrenched in the alleys. It was pretty dangerous down there after dark. Now, whenever I'm up in GF, I don't give walking down there at night a second thought.

To be totally honest, I suppose my idea of a "dangerous neighborhood" has been skewed a little bit since I moved to a much larger city, but I really think Grand Forks has dramatically improved the Downtown area since 1997.

Anonymous said...

"The more things change, the more they remain the same," the quote goes.

Uh-huh. Even though there's no more Sears, JC Penney's, none of the three "dime" stores, no drugstores, no Silverman's Clothing...one thing remains the same: Gilly's---the new McGuire's Bar. Same atmosphere, only two blocks north. The appearance of that place from the outside alone is enough to make the average motorist keep driving to the south side of the city.
Adding more bars to downtown can't possibly add to the allure.

gfyourself said...

Amazing Grains' selection of flour is better than anywhere else in town by a long shot, and you can buy in custom quantities. As a bread freak, I love that.

It would be interesting to see Amazing Grains open up their shelves to some 'mainstream' items as a way to bridge the gap. I don't know if the owners are necessarily interested in that idea, though.

Anonymous said...

Bring back the Palace Restaurant, the Blue Bird shoeshop, a barbershop, a music store.

Like Matthew posted earlier, a person has to dream---

Anonymous said...

I thought the comment about the reverse "survival of the fittest" phenomenon going on in our country was right on the mark, the lower class lower-educated are having way more kids than the upper class well-educated population, add to that the fact that in the U.S. we aren't educating and aren't producing enough doctors, scientists, and engineers for our future and have to resort to other countries like China and India for these professions. It's tough to stay on top as a leading nation in education, health care, wealth, research, etc when you're population as a whole is statistically heading in another direction.

Gary said...

towards rock stardom!

Anonymous said...

Yes, because if I was a rock star I could get a reality show and find the right trashy girl to make trash-rock baby's with. They would be amazing assests to society!

Ga ga gary said...

For example: Sean Lennon

Anonymous said...

I will agree that the flour selection at amazing grains is great and I do buy most of my flour from them. The fact still remains that I have purchased other items that were stale. I guess I am spoiled by ordering from a company that specializes in health food at much lower prices. I compared coconut oil and about fell over at the difference, as it was more than double.
I do alot of shopping at amazing grains I am just very careful now what I buy.

Anonymous said...

WTF does Dakota mean?

Anonymous said...

Dakota \d(a)-ko-ta\ is pronounced da-KOH-tah. It is of Native American Indian origin, and its meaning is "friend, ally". Tribal name and American place name: the word may be Sioux for "allies", or possibly "forever smiling".

Can I open a LARGE can on irony?
Nah...well...maybe..

Anonymous said...

Go FIGHTING DAKOTA'S!!!!!!!!!



..sorry I had too

Downtown Edge said...

As Amazing Grains is a co-op, the "owners" are actually the members. Household membership is purchased by buying 4 shares of $25 each during a one-year period, with no further financial contributions needed. Members have a say in the products and overall direction of the store. Any shopper there (member or non-member) can provide input by leaving a note in the suggestion box at the end of one of the two register lines. Their purchasing priorities are based on health benefits (natural ingredients, preferably orgainic, minimal processing), price (profit is not their highest priority and they try to keep prices low), benefit to the community (local growers and producers when possible), and environmental impact (minimal packaging when possible and, again, organic and local when possible).

I haven't bought anything stale there in a long time, but the last time I did, the staff cheerfully refunded me a few days later (it might have helped that I was a regular customer, as I did not have to show a receipt). Another time I bought some produce that looked "iffy" and they told me that if it wasn't fresh, just tell them next time I came in for a refund. Turned out it tasted just fine. Their sales are steadily increasing, so they're able to order some things in larger quantities and move them off the shelves more quickly, which helps with both freshness and price.

Anonymous said...

Amazing Grains seems to believe that when you put the word "organic" on everything, customers should pay a premium.

Elucidarian said...

"Amazing Grains seems to believe that when you put the word "organic" on everything, customers should pay a premium."

Are you trying to flame this thread? Really, the higher price of "organic" products isn't dictated by Amazing Grains, for one thing. If you really want to be informed on the issue, read this article.

"Conventional crops are heavily subsidized by the federal government in the United States, making them artificially inexpensive. Couple those subsidies -- which have been in place since the New Deal -- with the cost of cleaning up pollution and treating health problems created by conventional farming, and we're paying a lot in taxes in order to pay a pittance at the grocery store.

'When we make the argument that low-income people can't afford organics, we're assuming that the prices of conventionals are the prices we should be paying," says a USDA economic researcher who asked to remain anonymous. "But those prices externalize a lot of costs, like pollution and higher energy inputs.'"

Anonymous said...

As soon as we get a few high rise building and skyscrapers in town, then everybody will be wanting a subway in downtown, and a major sports team to come to town. Like that will happen, lmao.

Well, there is a Subway downtown, just not the transpotation kind. And speaking of the downtown Subway, I recently notice a realtor place a sign on the empty lot next to Subway. I wonder what developer or business could fill that void.

Anonymous said...

I think a mixed use building is economically viable now, but I think it would take some cooperation and creativity to put a developer package together. Imagine a small hotel and restaurant on the lower 3-4 floors, followed by 5-6 floors of rentals and finally 5-6 floors of luxury condos at the top. Nobody's talking about building a high-rise or skyscraper. But I think 12-15 floors is doable.

Anonymous said...

Hey, Kelly....

Wrong.

Anonymous said...

"But I think 12-15 floors is doable."

In whose lifetime?

Anonymous said...

Why the cynicism?

The luxury condo market is strong: Ellte Brownstones' success prompt consideration of a second development downtown. Phases 2 & 3 of University Village condos are sold out.

The downtown apartment market can't keep up. The Current is occupied and a second and third new building are being considered for the site of the Civic. Most nicely renovated apartments downtown have waiting lists.

Anonymous said...

Please stop with this "survival of the fittest" social Darwinism crap. Have we regressed to the 19th Century ? I agree with Laffen that there should be taller buildings downtown and more variety of stores. But when the city keeps subsidizing new development on the fringe like SuperTarget, the stores are going to go out there. Grand Forks isn't big enough to have more than one Target, or Old Navy, etc. Grocery stores, as well, keep consolidating so I think downtown better get used to Amazing Grains.

Anonymous said...

"Hey, Kelly....

Wrong."

Hey, Anonymous-One-Word-Complainer...

Ummm....Wrong about what, exactly? I made a couple of points there. Maybe you could flame me over something specific next time?

Kelly Clow said...

Man....

I rail on someone for flaming me anonymously, and what do I do?

I forget to sign the damn thing!

These new-fangled World Wide inter-ma-nets are purdy confusin' sometimes!

Anonymous said...

"But when the city keeps subsidizing new development on the fringe ..."

Huh?

You mean downtown development ISN'T susidized?

Anonymous said...

Kelly,
One word covered it, wrong.

I remember downtown from before the flood, and when you were a kid, and before you were a born. Your second point was Grand Forks "was pretty dangerous down there after dark". Are you serious? Your third point was downtown Grand Forks is nicer since the '97 flood. Yeah, I guess, especially the summer of '97.

You lack imagination. Look across the river. The Red is not a swimming destination, it's not really a boating, cayaking, and canoeing spot, some good cat fishing. But, it is one scenic mofo. Where was the vision to realize that? Does this sound better than giving a farmer a building for a buck and the cash to rebuild it to open a flower shop? That's "recovery". There was an empty canvas there. Now, what's left of the real merchants are being blown out for Jag and Red Bull joints.

It's truly sad what Grand Forks has become (compared to what it could have been).

You're not the creative type so I suppose you didn't get my point.

Anonymous said...

Development on the fringe is subsidized much more heavily. Roads, infrastructure, water, sewer, property tax breaks, etc., etc. etc.,

Anonymous said...

I don't mean to be wet blanket, but some of these recent posts have been rambling and incoherent. Everybody's entitled to their opinion-and I'm all for enjoying a night cap while on the web-but please re-read to make sure you're making sense.

Kelly CLow said...

"You're not the creative type so I suppose you didn't get my point."

Okay, I got your point! :P

But, seriously, I think GF did alright with what they had. One has only to look at the Empire Arts Center to see a wonderful new direction for Downtown. I can't reveal anything specific, but I know of some projects on the burner that will be really dynamic for the downtown area in the future, if they ever get off the ground.

I guess I'm not seeing the same vision you have here. What do you think "Could have been"?

Anonymous said...

Ooooohhh, you're soooo inside. Your Empire ego trips were nothing more than vanity productions. $5 shows with 1/2 a house. Grow some balls if you're going to dabble in promotions. Didn't some prior blogger rave about all you've done for the Empire. Oh, please.

Kelly Clow said...

Ummm...

How, exactly, did this turn into an indictment on my shows at the Empire?

It's hard to believe that there's somebody out there who hates me so much that they must use every opportunity they can scrape at to try to better themselves by attempting to bury me in their verbal garbage.

Whoever you are, I must REALLY get under your skin, huh?

You just keep burning me in effigy, there, sport.

If you need me, I'll be over here, not giving you a second thought.