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OUR OPINION: Simply Grand idea for a hotel

Our Opinion

Shopping malls opened. Department stores closed. The Post Office and the library moved across town.

For many years, these and other developments marked downtown Grand Forks as a place encountering one bad break after another.

But the 1997 flood washed out the old and made room for the new, enabling the downtown to halt its decline. And since then, the milestones such as the reopening of South Third Street (from its failed incarnation as a covered mall), the building of downtown apartments and the success of the Farmer’s Market and other downtown events all herald a downtown moving toward a brighter future.

Next year, downtown Grand Forks seems likely to pass another such milestone. For next year will mark the start of a renovation that’ll turn the St. John’s Block building into a boutique hotel, Friday’s Herald reported.

What an ambitious and exciting project for Angie Bjorgaard and her husband, Barry, the building’s owners and developers. And what a gigantic asset the hotel will be for downtown Grand Forks if the plans work out.

Could that happen? You bet; and for evidence, just look at the example set by the Hotel Donaldson, a fixture in downtown Fargo’s exciting rebirth. A travel writer for The Washington Post wrote about the hotel as recently as last month. Here’s part of what she said:

“The HoDo, as locals call it, set the tone for our stay. To our surprise and soon-to-follow delight, it primed us for a weekend of sophisticated design and art in this city of 100,000.

“With the HoDo (and its similarly dubbed restaurant), local entrepreneur Karen Stoker made a trend-setting $7 million investment in Fargo’s downtown. That was 15 years ago, back when the area was blighted by panhandlers and hourly-rate motels.

“Undaunted, Stoker started carving a restored Odd Fellows Lodge into her boutique hotel. Today the bedding is luxurious, the speakers are Bose, the good-night truffles are house-made, and the bathroom tiles are heated.

“What’s more, Stoker had each of the hotel’s 17 rooms designed by a Great Plains artist. … The HoDo’s showstopper is its “sky prairie,” a rooftop bar framed by trellises and tall grass, with the most scenic hot tub in town.”

Similar praise gushes from the pages of National Geographic Traveler, USA Today and AAA guides, which awarded the HoDo Restaurant North Dakota’s only four-diamond rating.

Granted, Grand Forks is lot smaller than Fargo, and that makes an upscale boutique hotel even less of a sure thing. But anybody who doubts downtown’s potential need only look at River Cinema 15 in East Grand Forks, the boutique movie theater whose steady crowds have surpassed all expectations.

Speaking of River Cinema 15, that theater just down the street can teach the St. John’s Block developers as much as can the Hotel Donaldson down Interstate 29. For both theater and hotel express their owners’ unique visions and personalities.

That’s what’ll help a downtown Grand Forks hotel succeed, too. What kind of theme might work best for the business: The Red River? Local history? UND?

Whatever the developers’ choice, it should be unique — something that’ll make the hotel one of a kind. That way, customers will get a fresh and upbeat experience that’ll keep them — and the Washington Post and National Geographic Traveler, eventually — coming back for more.