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 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

Monday, April 07, 2008

Rhombus Pizza quotes

I just happened to be checking out the website for Rhombus Pizza and couldn't help but notice a couple of quotes that looked familiar. Check out the bottom of the website. Here we see positive quotes from "Lisa" and "Tom." Actually, the quotes were originally comments from this blog back last April...check out the last comments on this blog post. The funny thing is, both of those comments were by anonymous readers. Where did the Rhombus guys get "Lisa" and "Tom" from?

Open Thread #74

And now for something completely different...

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Keep those tips coming!

Hey guys, I'm feeling lonesome. Why? Because you seem to have forgotten about sending me interesting tips and rumors. I used to get a couple of good tips each day. tips. I'm feeling neglected! Your tips help to make Grand Forks Life more interesting and more frequently updated. So, come on...send me some tips, people!

Keep this email address handy:

Friday, April 04, 2008

Welcome to Grand Forks

As I write this, Senator Barack Obama's plane has either touched down at Grand Forks International Airport or will do so very shortly. From there, he will make his way to Grand Forks' Alerus Center where he will give the keynote address for the North Dakota Democrat-NPL convention. While he is speaking, Senator Hillary Clinton will make her way to this "grand city" where she will also address her supporters.

I have no doubt that the next President of the United States of America will be speaking in Grand Forks tonight. I'm not sure if that leader will be a black man or a white woman, but I feel that either candidate would make a great president and their election would be a historic milestone in our nation's history. Tonight, we will see the future of our country in our own backyard.

Of course, as many of you probably know, there are numerous other events going on in Grand Forks tonight and over the next few days. In all, tens of thousands of people will be attending the various events that, together, are turning this into one of the most historic times in Grand Forks history. Welcome to all who are in Grand Forks for the first time or who are making a return visit.

And again, a very special welcome to the two inspirational individuals who will be addressing our city, our state, and our nation this evening. Welcome to Grand Forks!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

This made me laugh

According to, "There will be no Public Walking this Friday, April 4th, due to the Democratic National Convention." Wow, pretty good for Grand Forks!