Plans for the former Grand Forks Herald building took a step forward at a Jobs Development Authority meeting, on Tuesday, Sept. 7, as city staff were given approval to submit a grant application for construction costs related to turning the building into a tech hub.

The grant is slated to be submitted mid-September to the U.S. Economic Development Agency. It’s one of two EDA grants aimed at the building, with the intention of turning it into that hub. Plans for the building have evolved since Mayor Brandon Bochenski took office on June 9. Previously, the building was envisioned as being a collaborative center for tech start-ups, and now those plans have coalesced into it becoming a tech accelerator; a place for start-ups to receive mentorship, then, when ready, to move into another location in the city.

“This has turned a little bit, so the aircraft carrier has changed about 10 degrees,” said City Administrator Todd Feland. “So I always say, ‘But we're still going to Asia.’”

City staff, after working with JLG Architects and PCL Construction, say the project will cost more than $3 million to renovate the building, including adding 15 offices and conference/classrooms. The EDA grant, if approved, would pay more than $1.4 million of that cost and would require an equal local match, plus any costs the EDA determines are ineligible.

A JDA staff report indicates the city should receive notification on whether or not the grant will be approved by late October. Meredith Richards, director of community development and author of that report, told the Herald the city has a “strong application.”

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“We have received encouragement from their staff to put our best effort into the application, because they think we've got a pretty strong ask,” Richards told the Herald in a Wednesday phone call.

Whereas that soon-to-be submitted grant application is for construction costs, a previous grant request was submitted for operating funds -- money to carry out formal seminars and “intense” and “dedicated” mentorship of the start-ups that occupy the tech accelerator. That grant was submitted in mid-June, by Amy Whitney, director of UND’s Center for Innovation. Operational costs will amount to $1.2 million dollars, with the EDA providing half of that. Of the remainder, the city will provide $100,000 per year for three years. UND will chip in $100,000, and private donors account for $200,000.

UND will be a driving presence in the building to carry out those seminars, with the goal of fostering those companies until they are ready to move into their own locations. Notification of the operating funds grant, Whitney told JDA members, could come as early as next week.

“We're excited for this opportunity if everything all comes together with the different pieces of the proposal,” Witness said Tuesday. “We look forward to working with the city as part of this project.”

And the JDA already has a pair of tenants ready to move into the building. Drone software start-up Airtonomy and KSI Data Sciences, a video and data management company for drones and robots, have told city staff they are ready to proceed with leases for office space. At Tuesday’s meeting, the JDA gave the green light for leases for those companies.

KSI will occupy a 202-square-foot location on the first floor for $270 per month, plus an internet fee. Airtonomy will take up a larger second-floor location at $1,725 per month, plus internet fees. The leases are on a month-to-month basis, and either party can cancel with a 30-day written notice.

The Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corporation will maintain its offices on the building's first floor. The city bought the building from Forum Communications, which owns the Grand Forks Herald, for $2.75 million in April 2019. The newspaper rents space on the building’s second floor.