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Grand Forks City Council approves up to $250,000 for proposed summer music events

A proposed Grand Forks music festival made it through one hurdle Monday by securing city funds.

Grand Forks City Council approved $50,000 for promotion costs plus $200,000 in reserve to cover a financial loss if the festival doesn’t make a profit.

Remaining costs of the more than $1 million venture will fall on the Alerus Center and the Ralph Engelstad Arena, which have partnered in proposing and planning the two-day, multi-venue music festival.

Jody Hodgson, REA manager, said both the Alerus Center and REA have “a lot at risk and a lot to gain,” in pursuing the music festival, and the city’s involvement will ease the risk.

“The risk and reward in our industry is pretty crazy,” Hodgson said.

And while the city government won’t see any direct revenue from the festival, the two-day music event would boost the city’s economy with hotel and dining customers, as well as provide entertainment to Grand Forks residents, said council member Dana Sande.

“I see this as a community event … an opportunity to bring Grand Forks together,” Sande said. “This is an opportunity to highlight the two finest venues in North Dakota.”

The festival

The Alerus Center and REA began pursuing the idea of an annual music festival when Alerus Center staff recently learned of musicians passing by Grand Forks on their tour routes June 27 to 28, which then became the tentative dates for the festival.

“The weekend chose us. We didn’t choose the weekend,” Hodgson said.

He did not elaborate on which artists are involved in this “unique opportunity,” but he explained that artists are booked quickly in the entertainment industry, which is why the idea for the festival seemed to come up fast.

In the city Growth Fund Committee meeting Monday, council member Bret Weber, who said he supported the annual festival, asked if the idea is moving too quickly and if it would be better to take “baby steps” rather than try to book big-name artists in the festival’s first year.

But City Council President Hal Gershman disagreed, saying that with the opportunity at hand and the nature of the entertainment business, “I don’t think baby steps are wise at this point.”

The festival’s tentative schedule would be “a major concert” June 27 at the Alerus Center, another one the following night at REA, and “a variety of activities between the two for a festival atmosphere,” Hodgson said.

He reiterated that there are not any artists secured for the festival yet, and whether or not the concerts happen is contingent on booking artists at a reasonable rate.

The Alerus Center and REA are the only two venues officially partnered on the festival, but Hodgson said the idea could eventually expand to other places such as the Empire Theatre or the Chester Fritz Auditorium.

The festival is scheduled at the same time as a Blues on the Red event, as well as the Grand Forks County Fair, said Greg Hoover, city director of Urban Development. Hoover said he thinks the events would likely not compete, but would benefit each other in drawing a large crowd of visitors to Grand Forks.

The Greater Grand Forks Convention and Visitors Bureau has already been involved in preliminary planning for the festival, and Hodgson said he will approach the Grand Forks Downtown Development Association as well.

City’s funds

While REA and the Alerus Center had originally pursued an investment from the city’s Growth Fund, the Growth Fund Committee recommended using Economic Development Fund dollars instead, pushing the decision to City Council, which approved the funds.

In 2010, the city had allocated $250,000 to the Alerus Center for concert start-up costs, but the Alerus Center ended up not using the funds, which were absorbed back into the city’s Economic Development Fund, Sande said.

“The way I see it, it would be taking money previously dedicated to a concert and rededicating it to another concert, he said.

At the council meeting, Terry Bjerke was the only council member to vote against providing funding to the festival, saying that the city shouldn’t give money to the Alerus Center when the event center is still paying a debt.

“We said we weren’t going to do this anymore,” Bjerke said. “I just don’t get it.”

Gershman said the main difference is that REA is involved and that the Alerus Center has already found an opportunity with musicians to pursue.

“I really think this is an opportunity we need to move forward with,” he said.

Charly Haley
Charly Haley covers city government for the Grand Forks Herald. As night reporter, she also has many general assignments. Before working at the Herald, she was a reporter at the Jamestown Sun and interned at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, Detroit Lakes Newspapers and the St. Cloud Times. Haley is a graduate of Minnesota State University Moorhead, and her hometown is Sartell, Minn.
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