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Angie Bjorgaard stands in front of the St. John's Block building in downtown Grand Forks. Next year, Bjorgaard and her husband Barry will begin turning the historic building into a boutique hotel, reminiscent of days before chain hotels came into existence. Photo by Kile Brewer/Grand Forks Herald

Owner of St. John’s block planning boutique lodging in downtown Grand Forks

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Owner of St. John’s block planning boutique lodging in downtown Grand Forks
Grand Forks North Dakota 375 2nd Ave. N. 58203

First Angie Bjorgaard formed an idea for a luxury hotel in downtown Grand Forks, and then she found the building.

“We came across this building and just really fell in love it,” said Bjorgaard, walking through the St. John’s Block at 2 N. Third St. along with her husband, Barry. “I told Barry, I whispered to him, ‘This is it. This is the one.’”

Bjorgaard’s vision for the 1891 building is a boutique hotel that offers guests upscale accommodations in the middle of downtown’s arts and entertainment offerings.

“We hope to create something really amazing that will be a cornerstone for downtown,” said Bjorgaard, who purchased the five-story brick building at the corner of Third Street and DeMers Avenue in November.

The concept of a boutique hotel is the opposite of a chain hotel, which tends to emphasize uniformity across many locations. Boutique hotels are designed to be one-of-a-kind, down to individual looks for each room. Often they are in historic buildings in downtowns and showcase local artistic talent.

“Boutique hotels are popping up all over the place in historic buildings,” said Bruce Gjovig, whose Center for Innovation at UND has been working with Bjorgaard on business planning.

In this region, the Hotel Donaldson is a familiar example, and Bjorgaard cites the popular downtown Fargo business as an inspiration.

“We’ve always loved the Hotel Donaldson,” Bjorgaard said. “My husband and I got married there.”

She has also hired the same architect who worked on the Donaldson.

Her plan for the St. John’s Block hotel includes converting the apartments into 24 guest rooms, a lounge in what is now office space, a rooftop bar, a retail boutique and gym and spa. She wants to restore some of the historic architectural aspects of the building and have local artists display their works in the public areas, such as the lobby.

Guests would receive valet and concierge service. The lobby-level and rooftop bars would be open to the public.

Bjorgaard plans for the main construction to start next summer and be complete by 2016.

Central location

The building sits at an intersection at the center of downtown Grand Forks. A two-block stretch of restaurants and bars runs along Third Street to the north. Town Square is across the street to the south. The Empire Arts Center is two blocks to the west, and East Grand Forks’ entertainment area is just across the Sorlie Bridge next to the St. John’s Block.

“The concept of a boutique hotel fits perfectly in a downtown district,” said Jon Holth, president of the Downtown Development Association and co-owner of the Toasted Frog restaurant. “We can’t wait for it to happen.”

The St. John’s Block has been an apartment building for the past several years. Its main level has office space while retail space is below street level along DeMers.

The building housed a series of banks in its early years, and its upper levels were office space and the meeting space for the Pioneer Club, made up of the city’s early elite.

A 2012 commercial real estate listing put the price of the 44,000-square-foot building at $1.7 million. Its 2013 assessed value was $905,600, according to county records.

Bjorgaard, who founded Sublime Aesthetics cosmetic treatment clinics in Grand Forks, Fargo and Minot, declined to say how much she is investing in the project.

She also purchased the adjacent building on DeMers but wants to keep its use as apartments and the location of Amazing Grains food co-op.

Peg O’Leary with the Historic Preservation Commission said the building was in sound condition and she was pleased the owners wanted to emphasize its historic aspects.

“We’ve never been about keeping building just to look at,” she said. “They’ve got to have life.”

Bjorgaard and Gjovig see the hotel as a venue for showing visitors the best of Grand Forks’ historic center.

“Can’t you just see the Fourth of July on the rooftop, watching fireworks and sipping some wine?” she said.

Historic facts

  •  St. John’s Block was built between 1890 and 1891 by H.H. St. John, an agent for the Great Northern Railroad.
  •  It housed the Grand Forks National Bank, First National Bank and Valley Bank.
  •  In 1982, the building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
  •  In 1985, the apartments were renovated.
  •  It is one of two remaining Richardson Romanesque-style buildings in Grand Forks.
Christopher Bjorke

Christopher Bjorke is the news and business editor for the Grand Forks Herald. He first worked for the Herald in 1997 and most recently since 2011. His jobs at the Herald include covering local government, state politics, business and economics, and the health care industry. 

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