The North Dakota Department of Commerce has renewed Grand Forks’ Renaissance Zone program for another five years.

The program was created by the state Legislature in 1999, and acts as a tool for communities to revitalize designated areas by offering tax incentives on developments for a period of five years. Cities involved in the “Ren Zone” program need to submit plan updates to the state every five years, and Grand Forks’ 2021 plan has brought about an expanded zone for eligible development.

“Grand Forks has had a well performing Ren Zone since its inception, so I think (the city) put together a pretty solid update,” said Andrew Conlon, senior community development planner for Grand Forks.

The heart of the city’s Renaissance Zone is located downtown, and the recently approved extension of the program added two blocks there, to include the city’s original water treatment facility, which was decommissioned in 2020.

The largest change to the plan includes the creation of the Gateway District, a nine-and-a-half-block stretch of land that runs along Gateway Drive, and terminates downtown. The plan also added two blocks to the zone in what the city is calling the Midtown District, which encompasses the Grand Cities Mall.

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The city’s Renaissance Zone tops out at 43 total blocks, and is the maximum amount of land allowable under state law. The size of the zone is determined by a city’s population. According to a Department of Commerce news release, a total of 69 development projects have been approved in the Ren Zone since the city began participating in the project in 2001.

“Grand Forks has used the Renaissance Zone Program to encourage reinvestment and redevelopment in its downtown area to enhance business and improve housing,” said Rikki Roehrich, program manager at the North Dakota Department of Commerce. “The program is often used in both larger cities and smaller rural communities to attract businesses that provide vital services to their populations.

Ongoing developments in the zone include the mixed-use building The Argyle, and Harry’s on DeMers, a 1940s-style steakhouse. Construction on the Mill Square building on north Third Street, was recently completed, and includes commercial space on the ground floor and apartments above.