After moving its newsroom into a newly acquired second building in 1994, Herald staff couldn't have imagined the damage a flood and fire three years later would have on the newspaper's downtown home.

But two decades after the chaos and subsequent reconstruction, the historic Herald building at 375 2nd Ave. N. is in for some more changes, with the city of Grand Forks as its new owner.

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Last summer, the Herald's parent company, Forum Communications Co., placed the building on the commercial market. One year later, city officials have agreed to buy the entire building for $2.75 million, with plans to move city staff into available office space and create a public gathering space from a 7,700-square-foot room on the first floor.

City leaders also agreed Monday night to approve a five-year lease with Forum Communications, meaning the Herald's staff will to continue to work on the building's second floor. The Grand Forks Economic Development Corp. and Grand Forks Public Schools will similarly continue to rent space from the city in their respective locations throughout the building.

History

The Herald first built downtown in 1931, according to forms used to add the Herald building to the National Register of Historic Places in 1981.

Back then, the Herald building was located on North Fourth Street with an entrance facing Central High School.

That old facade is now an entry for the EDC, whereas the Herald's front doors face a parking lot across Second Avenue North. Even after the building was reconstructed in 1998, the EDC wall maintains the Herald's red Hebron brick, its original doors, and some of the original "Art Moderne" style frieze, or carvings, including a design of the North American continent, world maps of Africa, Asia and Europe and "H's" carved in Gothic script.

"Art Moderne is a little more, shall we say, subtle? There's not a lot of fanciness in this building. It's not historic like a Victorian, like you tend to think of," said Marsha Gunderson, a longtime Herald employee who is now retired. Gunderson joined the Grand Forks Historic Preservation Commission in 1983 and helped keep the Herald building on the National Register of Historic Places throughout reconstruction.

The Herald added onto its building in 1949 and 1959, and both developments were "totally harmonious" with the 1931 work, according to documents from the National Register of Historic Places.

In 1994, the Herald acquired a separate building next door, at 303 2nd Ave. N. Longtime employee Mike Jacobs-who eventually became publisher of the Herald-said he remembered moving with the newsroom into that building that year, three years before it was destroyed by a fire during the 1997 flood. After the flood, the Herald sold the lot and it today is the site of a condominium.

Gunderson said the reconstruction of the Herald building in 1998 was deliberately harmonious with the building's original design, just as the 1949 and 1959 expansions had been.

Symbolism, design

While Gunderson and others made sure the Herald building's exterior remained consistent, inside they included various symbols of the 1997 flood and Herald history.

On the floor of the lobby, the Herald logo sits in a circle colored blue to represent the flood. Surrounding that are 19 red spikes-19 for the date of the April, 1997 fire and red for its flames.

A spire on top of the building is 97 feet above the ground, commemorating the year 1997. Inside the building, the top of the rotunda above the lobby is 54 feet above the floor-a nod to the 54-foot flood crest that year.

Former Herald Publisher Mike Maidenberg said the clock tower was his idea.

"I always pushed for having a clock tower because I felt newspapers are always about useful information, and clocks are useful tools," he said.

What used to be a pressroom downstairs was redeveloped into a community room.

"When the presses were actually in that building, it was a whole different atmosphere, because you'd hear the presses start, you could smell the ink," Gunderson said. An original catwalk still exists in the community room.

"In the rebuilding, we wanted to have that space for the community because we helped rally the community, and the community rallied around us," said Maidenberg, who now lives in California. "And that was an important space to have for meetings and public events and things like that."

The city plans to create a collaborative space there for the public, with functions of both UND and the Grand Forks Public Library. Both entities have preliminarily agreed to help the city pay for this project.

City Administrator Todd Feland said now that the city and Forum Communications are closing their purchase agreement, the next step is to hire a design firm and create a master plan for that project.

Downtown

The most important decision in reconstructing the building after the Flood of 1997, Maidenberg said, was to remain downtown.

"We felt that, symbolically, there needed to be a statement, or a gesture, that the newspaper had faith in the community's heart," said Maidenberg. "Downtown was the historic heart of the community. When we announced we were going to stay downtown, it was kind of like starting the heart beating all over again."

Though he now lives out of state, whenever Maidenberg visits Grand Forks he says he notices more progress downtown on each trip.

"Every time I come back, I drive around downtown and I see what is happening. I pass some of the new housing, restaurants, activities, and generally what I see is very positive. Not only in Grand Forks, but East Grand Forks."

Jacobs, who took over as publisher in 2004 before retiring in 2014, said today's downtown is much different than what it was 22 years ago.

"The flood washed away the funk. Funk is sort of downscale, interesting spots," Jacobs said. "It was an authentically eclectic place, but it was downscale."

According to Jacobs, the change is neither good nor bad.

"It's just a thing. A thing that occurred because of the flood," he said. " But I think one of the reasons that the city is keen on development downtown is that people miss the serendipity that downtown used to provide. Now you come downtown with certain missions."

Jacobs said when commercial rental rates went up immediately following the flood it pushed out marginal businesses, creating what he considers a "missed opportunity" for downtown development efforts.

"So now what we have is upscale boutiques, rather than downscale (businesses)," he said.

According to Maidenberg, keeping the Herald downtown was a key part of current development work.

"I mean, if I have any sadness it's because an era passed," Maidenberg said. "It's obviously bittersweet in a way, because the Herald newspaper as it was has changed, as all newspapers have," Maidenberg said. "But the fact that it has remained and will remain for the foreseeable future in the historic heart, and that the historic heart is thriving, gives me comfort."