Tuesday, September 01, 2009

New local blog: A Wee Blether

There is a new local blogger that we can add to the local blogroll. Adam Copeland recently started his blog A Wee Blether. Adam is a Presbyterian pastor who has moved to the area. Check out his blog...and welcome to the Red River Valley, Adam!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

What happened?

So why IS this blog so quiet lately?  Why does a formerly talkative blogger have almost nothing to say these days? 

Well, for one thing, I have gotten very lazy.  I'm busy in real life and I just haven't had near as much time to devote to extraneous activities like running a blog.  I'm sorry I'm so lazy...I should try harder to find the time to blog.

There is another reason, though...a reason that isn't the fault of your ho-hum host.  Remember how the main topic of this blog has always been the local business scene?  Well, these days there is literally almost NO business news to talk about.  Drive around town and you'll be hard pressed to find any commercial construction...large-scale or small-scale...these is almost nothing going on.

Sure, there are a few ongoing projects...the new Aurora Hospital is one notable example.  Still, a project like that hasn't generated any news for months.  Public construction has also been severely lacking this year.

I'm hoping that things will eventually pick up in the local business scene...a pick up in activity on this blog should hopefully go hand in hand with that.  There have been other periods of economic lulls here in the past.  Things WILL change in the future and there WILL be active economic development once again. 

In the mean time, be sure to share your tips and story ideas with me.  Just drop me an email if you would like or directly post them to the blog if you prefer.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Open Thread #103

Let's jump-start a little activity here.  This is the first open thread since February.  I know...kinda sad.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Green Giant

So they're painting the Alerus Center a dark green color...among others changes underway and still coming to the city-owned events center.  Thoughts?  You think you'll like the new look?

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Tweet talk

I'm going to try something new.  Here's a post that you can use to talk about my Twitter "tweets."

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Toasted Frog to open location in Bismarck

A Grand Forks restaurant is set to open a new location in Bismarck by next year. The Toasted Frog has submitted a Renaissance Zone application to the city of Bismarck. As in Grand Forks, the Bismarck location would be located in the downtown area of the city.

Always nice to see a local business successful enough to not only build upon their initial investment but to be able to branch out to new markets.

And yes, Bismarckians, they do serve frog legs.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Anyone have a spare billion dollars?

Is it petty of me to be taking some level of umbrage with a select few down in Fargo calling for a diversion to protect that metropolitan area from flooding? (Fargo Forum article) ("Flood Protection Coalition for the FM-Community")

Perhaps diversions can offer advantages over dikes and floodwalls. In fact, I remember that in the wake of the 1997 flood I thought a diversion sounded like the best method of protecting Grand Forks and East Grand Forks. Then I started to realize that the cost was simply going to be far too high and a less costly system could offer a similar level of protection.

Don't get me wrong. The flood protection system that the Grand Cities eventually did construct was expensive. In fact, I sometimes think about the wonderful gift that has been given to us in this system. Hundreds of millions of dollars were spent to protect us and the money came from not only here at home but from each and every taxpayer in this country. We should be very grateful.

Having said how expensive the system that is now in place turned out to be, we actually did go with the less expensive method. A diversion would have cost not millions but likely billions. So what we have in place is the "cheap" option. Does it give us a "cheap" level of protection? Hardily. Even when the floodwaters rise perilously high as they did this spring, the mood is so different in Grand Forks than it used to be. The system has been tested and it clearly works. In my opinion, quality of protection is not a real issue here. Both diversions and dikes can offer a high level of protection.

Sure diversions limit the need to buyout homes within city limits. Sure dikes can obstruct the view of the river from within the city. Grand Forks suffered dearly in 1997...far more than any other Red River Valley city has seen since. If the residents of Grand Forks had to make sacrifices to protect their city in the wake of utter destruction, why should residents of Fargo not be asked to make similar sacrifices?

Pretending that dikes and floodwalls are inherently ugly things is wrong. Sure they can be unattractive if they aren't done right. The Fargo diversion group's website states that "The dikes, floodwall and such things are unsightly." Really? Have Mr. Schafer, Mr. Burgum, Mr. Offutt, or Mr. Scheel ever visited the Grand Forks Greenway system? Is a giant park bordering the river unsightly? If they did visit, they would find a massive system of well-maintained parks and trails that sees plenty of use and has actually focused attention towards the river instead of detracting from it. In fact, the Red River corridor in Grand Forks went from being something that outside of the downtown area was virtually hidden in backyards to being a public place that anyone in Grand Forks can enjoy.

So if the dikes and floodwalls in Grand Forks provide a more than adequate level of protection while at the same time creating an attractive and massive system of public parks, why would a similar system in Fargo be something to frown upon? Grand Forks went through a horrific disaster and responded by building an expensive but reasonably priced flood control system that protects the city and enhances quality of life for many. Fargo had a very close call and now a group of men with powerful and wealthy names want to respond by spending massive amounts of money to build a system that would offer essentially the same level of protection found in Grand Forks but that would also "protect the view" for a select few.

It may be childish of me, but it basically boils down to this: if it's good enough for Grand Forks, why isn't it good enough for Fargo?

Friday, May 29, 2009

Milo is back

Milo Smith is blogging again. Follow his "quest for the perfect lawn" at his Milo's Turf Tips blog. Sadly, he's been blogging more than I have lately.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Luxury condos coming to Kings Walk

A new "luxury condo" development is coming to the south side of the Kings Walk Golf Course in southern Grand Forks. The building will be built just off of 62nd Avenue South roughly halfway between South Washington Street and Columbia Road. The condos will be 3 1/2 stories high and include underground parking.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

New strip mall coming to EGF

East Grand Forks will soon be home to a new strip mall. The mall will be built directly west of Hugo's on 14th Street NE. The mall will offer around five spaces ranging in sizes from 1,500 to 3,000 square feet.

What types of businesses would you like to see locate in this new strip mall? What stores or restaurants should take a look at adding a location in East Grand Forks?

Thursday, March 05, 2009

GF Dining Thread #4

We haven't had a dining thread since last October so I really think one is in order. This is the place for restaurant reviews, discussion of restaurant comings and goings, and the types of restaurants and cuisines you would like to see in Grand Forks. In other words...time to be a better Marilyn Hagerty than Marilyn Hagerty. (We love you Marilyn.)

There have been plenty of changes lately in the local dining scene. Space Aliens recently opened in the building that formerly housed Bostons. Have you tried them yet? If so, share your reviews of the food, service, atmosphere, prices, etc. The Royal Fork has closed down after being a fixture in the Columbia Mall for around a quarter of a century. Do you miss it? Is the Golden Corral a decent replacement for the Royal Fork? Suite 49 also shut down recently after only a few years in business. Why did they fail? What type of restaurant should go into that building, in your opinion? How about Mama Maria's? They've reopened at a new location in East Grand Forks' Riverwalk Center. Is their food the same quality and/or value that it used to be when the restaurant was in Grand Forks? What's up with the old Dagwoods/Overtime Bar and Grill building? The windows have been boarded up lately. Is a new restaurant on the way?

Let's have fun with this, kids.

New University Village housing complex

Here's a sneak peek at the newest housing complex on the University of North Dakota campus.  The rendering above is of "Hamline Square" which is currently under construction just east of the Ralph Engelstad Arena in the University Village neighborhood.  Hamline Square is a pair of apartment buildings with studio, two, three, and four bedroom units.  The complex will feature underground parking.  Tentative rates range from $425 to $1300.  The buildings are set to open on August 1 of this year.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Grand Forks Guy is on Facebook

I'm now on Facebook and I would like to be your friend.

Check out my profile. :)

Monday, March 02, 2009

Changes at the mall

Several stores at Grand Forks' Columbia Mall have moved into new spaces or are preparing to do so.

Both Maurices and Victoria's Secret will be getting new spaces in the mall and have moved to temporary locations to prepare for the final move.  Victoria's Secret recently moved to a temporary location in the old Target wing of the mall and, in the near future, will move to the former Maurice's space which is being remodeled for the lingerie retailer.  Maurices has also moved to a temporary location in the Target wing in preparation for a move to their new location.

Tradehome Shoes is moving to the former Scott's Music space near Center Court.  Meanwhile, Scott's has moved to a larger location in the Sears wing.  The new Scott's brings together under one roof the Scott's retail store and also the "fine arts studio" formerly located downtown.  Lastly, SportsZone recently moved from Center Court to a larger space in the JC Penney wing.

Could this shuffling around of stores and remodeling of store spaces be connected to GK Development's longterm plans for the mall?  Have you heard about any other upcoming changes at Columbia Mall?

Monday, February 23, 2009

"State of the City" or "About that Monorail..."

On Monday, Mayor Michael Brown will deliver his most recent installment of the annual "State of the City" address.  Read Tu-Uyen Tran's Herald article here.

Brown usually uses the speech to brag about several accomplishments of the past year and to introduce a couple of new proposals.  I'm very interested to hear more about two of the proposals that Tran hints at in his article.

Both projects seem to involve the Alerus Center and its surroundings.  One proposal is to develop 42nd Street into a "Destination Corridor."  Nothing too new here, but I will be interested to see if Brown has any specific ideas that haven't been brought up before.  This is something that the Alerus Center's new director Steven Hyman is pushing for.  I'll be excited to see what Brown and Hyman can dream up over time.

The other proposal is a "transportation-related project" that would apparently link the Alerus Center to the Ralph Engelstad Arena.  WHAT?  ARE WE TALKING ABOUT THAT MONORAIL?  That would be uber-cool!

Maybe that whole "New Horizons" plan didn't vanish into thin air like I thought it had...

UPDATE - 2/23/2009 - 5:00 PM
In the words of Tu-Uyen, it IS a monorail.  Read the actual 2009 State of the City address here.

Friday, February 20, 2009

B&N's time at UND coming to a close

In a little over a month, Barnes and Noble will no longer be a presence on the UND campus. As of April 1, B&N will relinquish management of the University Bookstore to Follett Higher Education Group. Follett is the nation's largest campus bookstore management company with more than 750 stores under their umbrella.

B&N's 10 year history at UND appears to have been, at times, inconsistent with what the campus and the community have desired in a bookstore like this. Many (including me!) have complained about their limited hours which seem to only get more limited with every passing year. Also, students and professors alike seem to have some very strong feelings about Barnes and Noble.

I think the store is very attractive...few campuses have a nicer looking bookstore. I have also enjoyed shopping in the store's general merchandise section over the years. Still, even that is a bit lacking when you compare it with the titles and selection that a traditional Barnes and Noble would carry.

I still don't believe that the Barnes and Noble group is going to be satisfied with having absolutely no presence in a metropolitan area of around 100,000 people. I see a south-side store coming in the not-to-distant future...what about you?

So what will Follett bring to the UND campus when it arrives this spring? What do YOU want it to bring?

I'm sure many people would like to see longer hours. The closest Follett-managed campus bookstore is at St. Cloud State University. Check out their hours here. The latest they stay open is 6...no difference there when compared with B&N's current closing time.

Tell us what you would hope to see at the UND Bookstore come this April. WIll you miss B&N?  Are you excited about Follett?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Where those new railyards could go

So, if we did have millions of dollars just sitting somewhere...or maybe if we were God...where would we reroute those railroad tracks and just where would we put those new railyards? I'm thinking rerouting the lines north of town would be the most logical. Below is a little map I put together showing two possible routes that I came up with. The colored lines are the tracks and the squares show potential sites for the railyards. What do you think?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Open Thread #102

I think we could use a fresh open thread...don't you agree?  What's on your mind?  Hear anything interesting lately?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

More on that railyard redevelopment...

 A few months ago, I introduced my idea (pipedream?) of redeveloping the BNSF railyards in the center of Grand Forks. I really do see this as sort of Grand Forks' manifest destiny.  If we could somehow reroute the railroad outside of the present city limits, we would have a vast swath of land located directly between UND and the downtown area.  Think of just how Grand Forks could be transformed if we could develop a new mixed-use neighborhood right in the heart if the city.

Incredibly ambitious?  For sure.  A project of such a scale that much larger cities would cringe at the costs and work involved?  Probably.  Impossible?  Never.  The nation's economy may have soured and the local economy - a bright spot in the country - may not be what it was a year or two ago, but times will eventually change.  Why not start planning now for an ambitious future that could be on our doorstep.  For that matter, I'm not entirely sure that the current economic conditions would be entirely prohibitive for a project like this.  Money will soon be flowing out of Washington for projects not so different than this.  Could this current stimulus bill or a future outlay of federal funds play a role in a railyard redevelopment project for Grand Forks?  You never know.

After all, a project like I'm talking about would put many people to work for many, many years.  Of course there are almost insurmountable obstacles in the way of such a total redevelopment of the railyards.  Rerouting the rails would probably cost tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars.  Then there would be many properties that would need to be acquired.  Also, an extensive network of streets and utilities would have to be put in place.  Look at the possible street network that I've come up with...

A street system like that (three or four miles in total) would cost a small fortune.  In all, I think my previous "$100 million dollar" talk was a little short-sighted.  We're probably talking several times that.  Of course, not all of this would have to be done in one big swoop of construction.  The railyards would have to be rerouted and the existing rails would have to be removed before new construction could take place, but the street system could be built gradually over time.

Also, we're not talking about one entity hear.  I'm talking about a group of parties including the city, the county, the state, UND, BNSF, the federal government, local developers, banks, private investors, and who knows who else.  In fact, the biggest obstacle probably wouldn't be the cost...I think it would be the years of work it could take to bring all of the parties together and get them to work for the same outcome.

In a future post, I'll show you just how I would divide up all that land.  Let me know what you think about my ideas (and the realities) of how Grand Forks might go about redeveloping the BNSF railyards.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A grand plan for the Alerus

The Alerus Center's new director, Steve Hyman, seems to be a man with a vision. According to Tu-Uyen Tran's great article, Hyman presented a plan today to Alerus Center Commission members. The plan outlines numerous improvements to the Alerus facility over the next 20 years...improvements totaling more than $30 million.

$30 million more for the Alerus Center? What are all those Alerus-naysayers going to say about this? While $30 million may sound like a lot of money, readers should understand that the money would come from a capital improvement fund that has to be spent on improvements to the Alerus Center. This new spending will not require any new taxes...the funding source is already in place.

I, for one, am very excited that the Alerus Center finally seems to have a leader with a plan. Hyman appears to be proactive and has drawn up a plan which, forecasting the future of the center out to 2030, could potentially go beyond Hyman's time at the facility. Too often, a public facility is built and then the investment basically ends then and there. The facility slowly becomes outdated and unusable. This seems to be something that we have experienced many times over the years. The Civic Auditorium was never truly upgraded and it now sits virtually empty and may be destined for the wrecking ball. The GFK terminal has become a dinosaur and has limited Grand Forks' potential in some ways. I'm glad to see that the city's biggest public building project ever now has a leader that seems determined to not let the Alerus Center slip into the irrelevancy that such projects often seem doomed to face.

What do you think about Hyman's plans? What improvements do you want to see at the Alerus Center over the next five years? Twenty years? We only saw a brief glimpse of Hyman's powerpoint on WDAZ today...perhaps someone (Tu-Uyen?) could provide us with that powerpoint so we can see the plans?

Friday, January 23, 2009

GF Applebee's closing?

I've been hearing an interesting rumor lately that: the Grand Forks Applebee's will be closing. I have to say that I would be shocked if this rumor turns out to be true. It would be odd for one of the biggest restaurant chains in the country to not have a location in Grand Forks. The rumor has the East Grand Forks Applebee's location staying open. Has anyone else heard anything about this rumor? Are there other rumors out there about any other Grand Forks-East Grand Forks businesses that might be thinking about closing?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Grand Forks' new Christmas decorations

This past holiday season debuted the city of Grand Forks' new Christmas decorations.  Gone are the days of the tattered old "Christmas bell" lights that used to decorate the city's thoroughfares.  The tinsel-wrapped bells with countless burnt-out light bulbs have been replaced with new LED snowflakes in a bluish-white color.  LED lights were also used on trees throughout the city and in the downtown area.

So, now that the holiday season has drawn to a close, I'm interested to hear what people think of the decorations.  The decorations are still up around the city in case you haven't had a chance to see them.  Actually, that was part of the reason to switch over from an exclusively Christmas theme to a more "winterish" (and non-denominational) snowflake theme...they can be kept up throughout the winter months if desired.

It's interesting to note that, while the city's old program used to include decorations along multiple major streets throughout the city, the new program essentially limits streetlight decorations to the downtown area and along Washington Street and DeMers Avenue.  Perhaps the city will look at expanding into other areas in coming years. I do like that the city has decorated multiple trees throughout town.  There are lights on trees along both North and South Washington and in a couple of spots on Columbia Road.

I have to say that I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with LED Christmas lights.  I still appreciate the warmth and glow of "old fashioned" lights over the rather cold look of LED lights.  Also, the city appears to have come across some rather weak LED lights.  I was under the impression that LEDs are usually brighter than traditional lighting.  That appears to be the case with the lights used in the snowflake displays on the city streetlights...they look very bright  However, what's wrong with the light strands used downtown?  The lights on the downtown rooflines and on the trees lining Kittson Avenue/the railroad are exceptionally dim.  In fact, I had to actually point out that the city still had lights on the rooflines to a friend...she hadn't even noticed them on first glance.  The LEDs used downtown are so dim that they are hardily even worth the effort of putting up...the city made a bad purchase in my opinion. I'm also not entirely sure what I think about wrapping those LED rope-lights around the streetlight lampposts on Washington and DeMers.  In a way it looks cool and in a way it looks a little amatuerish.  What do you think?

I'm excited to hear what you have to say about the city's new lighting program.  Was it worth it?  What would you change for next year?

(Image - Pinkdream Photography)

Open Thread #101

The first open thread of 2009.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Columbia Mall comings and goings

The new year has brought a handful of comings and goings at Grand Forks' Columbia Mall.

Certainly the most high-profile change at the mall is the closure of the Royal Fork Buffet. The restaurant had been a fixture in the mall since the early 1980s and, until Sears set up shop at Columbia Mall a few years back, the Royal Fork had functioned as an anchor of sorts for the mall's north corridor. The opening of the Golden Corral Buffet a couple of years ago seems to have had a negative impact on the Royal Fork's bottom line. Since their new competition opened, the Royal Fork both raised their prices and started charging for beverages. In hindsight, I wonder if essentially charging their patrons more was the wisest way to respond to increased competition. Regardless, the Royal Fork was the site of countless family occasions over the years for our family and I will miss it.

While the space formerly occupied by the Royal Fork doesn't appear to have a new tenant as of yet, another restaurant that recently left the mall was quickly replaced with a new one. The Great American Cookies/TCBY in the mall's Dakota Cafe Food Court recently closed. However, the space didn't stay empty for long and a restaurant named Forks and Spoons took over the location. Forks and Spoons serves BBQs, soups, salads, Sloppy Joes and soft-serve ice cream.

Also, Scott's Music is moving out of their location close to the mall's Center Court and into a larger space in the Sears Wing. Scott's is taking over the spot formerly occupied by the Shirt Connection.

What changes would you like to see come to the mall in 2009? Given the current economy, do you think the previously discussed remodeling/expansion plans at Columbia Mall have been put off for the time being?

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Ryan Schuster's new blog

Ryan Schuster, former business reporter for the Grand Forks Herald, has moved over to another Forum Communications publication, Prairie Business magazine. Ryan is the new editor of the magazine and has a new blog, Prairie Pulse, covering regional business news and trends. Check it out!