SouthTowne Square remodeling project in Grand Forks has owners looking for the end

The ongoing project will run through the winter.

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The façade renovation project at SouthTowne Square is set to continue into 2021. Adam Kurtz/Grand Forks Herald

While some business owners and managers say their storefronts will look great after a lengthy remodeling project at SouthTowne Square, they are growing weary of the long-running project.

The façade renovation project at SouthTowne Square, located at the intersection of South Columbia Road and 32nd Avenue South, has been beset on all sides due to the pandemic. Those problems were the latest to crop up. After the buildings' exteriors were uncovered, ICON Architectural Group, which is overseeing the project, discovered structural issues that needed to be addressed. The project that started in late fall 2019 will run through the winter into 2021.

“Obviously, there are tenants in there; you don’t want to disrupt those businesses,” said Tom Wesley, principal architect at ICON Architectural Group. “They are trying to run their businesses and they are paying rent and they are doing all those things, so it’s important to try and limit the impact on those.”

It was only after outer elements of the buildings were removed that the problems were discovered. The renovation essentially became a project within a project, as workers did structural support work for the parapet wall by adding steel columns, then transition back into remodeling the storefronts.

The project was further slowed when workers had to quarantine after being identified as close contacts of a person who tested positive for COVID-19.


Another complication has been availability of supplies, in particular green-treated lumber. As COVID swept the nation, manufacturers shut down and supplies dwindled. Much lumber comes from Canada, Wesley said, and though the border is open to commercial traffic, receiving shipments was difficult for a time. What lumber remained became more expensive, though Wesley said they have stayed “ahead of the curve” in terms of the budget for supplies. Overages occurred due to the needed structural repairs.

Kelly Hawthorn, a manager at Sterling Optical, said her store had scaffolding in front of it for a few months, but the slowdown in business was a combination of the work and the coronavirus pandemic. The business is in the southern L-shaped building at SouthTowne Square and faces 32nd Avenue South. Work has largely wrapped up there, but most stores don’t have their street-facing signage, and weather wrap is visible at other areas.

“I'm hoping it's going to be soon,” Hawthorn said.

Firehouse Subs, located around the corner from Sterling and facing South Columbia Road, closed completely in mid-April because of the one-two punch of construction and coronavirus. In the sandwich shop’s case, construction extended into the building's interior, with concrete being torn up and the street-facing glass replaced.

The shop re-opened on Dec. 1, and general manager Brandon Kumlin said it’s good to be back. Closing down was “the better choice for the time” Kumlin said, but, with the shop now open, he is looking forward to getting customers back in the doors, which means again contributing a portion of sales to Firehouse Subs’ public safety foundation.

Wesley said work on the south building should be completed in a few weeks, but the north building is another story. Temporary shelters need to be built then heated, for masonry work.

“I would say before spring we’d be nearly complete; just a few little cosmetic things,” Wesley said.

Those shelters will be in “isolated” locations he said, and customers should be able to enter through a shop’s front door, which wasn’t always the case earlier in the project. Shelly Duchscherer, co-owner of Wy’s Floral, said it was a difficult week when customers had to use the back door when concrete work was being done in the front.


Like other business owners there, Duchscherer is looking forward to when her store front looks new.

“It's been a long process, but it's going to be so nice when it's done,” she said.

Firehouse Subs General Manager, Brandon Kumlin (left) stands with franchisee, Dave Kent. Kumlin said he is ready to begin contributing to the shop's public safety foundation. (submitted photo)

Adam Kurtz is the community editor for the Grand Forks Herald. He covers higher education and other topics in Grand Forks County and the city.

Kurtz joined the Herald in July 2019. He covered business and county government topics before covering higher education and some military topics.

Tips and story ideas are welcome. Get in touch with him at, or DM at @ByAdamKurtz.

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