East Grand Forks hires consultants for arena, sales tax push

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East Grand Forks City Hall

East Grand Forks is hiring an architecture firm to take the next step or two in a plan that could revamp the city’s two aging ice arenas and ask residents to approve a new sales tax to pay for it.

City Council members voted 5-2 Tuesday to authorize city staff to hire JLG Architects to work on the “pre-design” and “pre-referendum” phases of a slate of Parks and Rec-minded facility upgrades .

The marquee items on that list are a $24 million recommendation to add a second rink at the Civic Center and turn the arena into an all-season fieldhouse. The city could do only a portion of that recommendation, and city leaders are also considering less expensive plans to revamp LaFave Park, redo trails along the Greenway, and upgrade the ballfields at Stauss Park.

The most talked-about plan, at least recently, has been the arena work, and parts of the architects’ proposal seems to imply that they’ll only work on the arena plan and, potentially, the Greenway and Stauss Park ones. Despite that language, City Administrator David Murphy said the firm is set to work on the entire slate of Parks and Rec project ideas.

The council’s vote on Tuesday means the architects will talk to “stakeholders” to figure out goals for the project, put together some preliminary design ideas, and research other Minnesota cities’ sales taxes .


The Minnesota Legislature and East Grand Forks voters would both need to OK a new sales tax in East Grand Forks. Residents there approved one in 2016 that covers repayments on a loan the city took out to fix up a city swimming pool, and that tax is set to expire sometime next summer.

The firm is set to charge East Grand Forks $60,000, but the city won’t need to pay until after a presumptive sales tax vote in November 2020. If the vote fails, the city owes JLG nothing, according to the proposal.

Council members Dale Helms and Clarence Vetter were the two “nay” votes on Tuesday.

“Although I’m in favor of the project for the Civic Center and the VFW, I just have a hard time spending $60,000 for a firm,” Vetter said. “I think that our city staff could do the same stuff.”

At a meeting last week, Helms worried that an expensive new arena could ultimately be a financial burden for the city.

“There’s too many ‘if’s in there for me,” he told the Herald on Tuesday. “The multi-purpose facility, I think, would be excellent. ... But to get to that, I don’t feel like I want to spend $24 million.”

Joe Bowen is an award-winning reporter at the Duluth News Tribune. He covers schools and education across the Northland.

You can reach him at:
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