Demolition of old Simonson Lumber site means new start for Near North area
It's been years since Terry Hofland and Doug Vigen first stepped onto the lot at Simonson Lumber and Hardware in Grand Forks. Both in their mid-60s, they still recall their time spent at 820 N. Third St.—with careers that spanned more than four decades, they spent much of their lives with the company.
On Wednesday, both men stood across the street watching heavy equipment tear into the buildings on the back of the property and recalled shipments of lumber, customers and daily business rolling through. "It's kind of a sad day after working here all these years, but we realize that change is necessary," Vigen said. "It's hard to see it go down."
Workers with Community Contractors and Florian and Sons Excavating began tearing down the property to make way for a four-story building with roughly 70 apartments expected to welcome residents by next summer. Work is beginning behind the main building, knocking down some structures at the rear of the property first as machines advance towards North Third Street.
By Thursday, many of the outbuildings on the rear of the property had come down, and excavators were dismantling a larger building, an A-frame dangling from the bucket of an excavator as heavy machinery continued to rip buildings down.
"We're just tearing down the lumber yard, I guess, the outbuildings to build a new apartment building," said Jesse Tweten, project manager with Community Contractors—the general contractor on the project—on Tuesday. Craig Tweten, president of Community Contractors, said he expects construction on a new building to start by Aug. 7.
It's an important moment for a building project that's been in the works for months. The project only came to fruition after months of negotiations between the neighborhood residents and developers and contractors on the new building, though. A plan for apartments came about after a push for a set of townhomes on the property was scuttled and neighbors voiced strong concerns about how the building would fit with the surrounding neighborhood, its appearance and increased traffic. After concessions from developers, the project moved forward with the Near North Neighborhood Association's approval.
Dakota Commercial and Development is overseeing development on the project. Kevin Ritterman, the company's president, said the total project is expected to come to about $11 million, with construction on a new building beginning in about a month.
It's not yet clear what the ownership of the site will look like. Kimberly Simonson, executive vice president of Simonson Lumber and Hardware, said in May that she wasn't sure to what extent her company, the longtime owner of the property, will continue to be linked to the land. Reached on Tuesday, she said that "we're still working things out."
City Administrator Todd Feland said he's excited to see the development gain steam. The construction, he said, helps "square" the downtown area. With University Flats on University Avenue near the Mill Spur railroad crossing, future redevelopment at the water treatment plant, and this project, Feland said the future outline of the downtown area is starting to take shape.
"I think this is just another important step in having a new apartment building and driving more people in our downtown area," he said.
Barry Wilfahrt, president and CEO for The Chamber of Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, said those new additions in the downtown area mean a bigger customer base. Whatever developments may come—there are lots throughout the downtown area that stand a chance of development—their odds of being successful are higher with more residents in the area.
Wilfahrt also praised the way the property engages the nearby river, with many apartments sure to get a view of the nearby water.
"This embraces the Greenway and this embraces the river," he pointed out. "After the flood, Grand Forks kind of turned its back on the river."
It's still bittersweet for some. Speaking on Tuesday—when it appeared that crews might start work that afternoon—Simonson said she didn't plan to watch the first day of demolition.
"I actually couldn't go and watch, to tell you the truth. It's been a pretty emotional time," she said. "I think it's going to be awesome for the community, and I think the development is going to be unlike anything that's been done in Grand Forks."