“Fabulous.” A “no-brainer.” A “fantastic game-changer.”
Those were some of the ways Grand Forks City Council members described a developer’s $30 million plan to build a combination boutique hotel and events center, a “tax-increment financing” pre-application for which council members considered and, acting as the city’s Committee of the Whole, unanimously approved on Monday.
“I’m trying to stay as calm as I can,” joked City Council member Bret Weber moments before the committee’s vote.
The tentatively named Olive Ann Hotel and Events Center would recognize pioneering aviator Olive Ann Beech and sport a Grand Forks theme of some variety, details of which are set to be partly worked out by a team of student marketers at the University of North Dakota. Beyond 82-plus hotel rooms and three ballrooms, the project would sport commercial office space, four luxury condos and, perhaps, a basement-level speakeasy. It all would be added alongside or into the existing building at 322 DeMers Avenue, a spot that includes a high-end restaurant that developer Phil Gisi characterized as an important piece of the project.
Approving the pre-application means the City Council proper is set to consider it at a future meeting. If council members approve it then, Gisi and Edgewood Development Group would be in line to submit a full-on application for tax-increment financing, which is a property tax break that would allow Edgewood to only pay a portion -- or none -- of the additional property taxes it would incur from the development for a period of up to 15 years.
If and when Edgewood submits its real-deal application, a third-party would review the project’s financial projections and a panel of representatives from the city, Grand Forks County, Grand Forks Public Schools and Grand Forks Park District would consider the application before making a recommendation to their respective governments.
But that’s only one of three tax breaks the development is set to work toward. The project is in one of Grand Forks’ “Renaissance Zones,” which means it’s eligible for five years’ worth of further property tax breaks in addition to state income tax breaks.
The plan, City Administrator Todd Feland told the Herald, is for the project to take advantage of the Renaissance Zone incentives for five years -- the state maximum -- and then the tax-increment ones for 10 years after that. That could mean the Olive Ann building, once completed, might not register on Grand Forks’ property tax rolls until well into the 2030s.
And beyond that, the project is also angling to take advantage of a federal “Opportunity Zone” in Grand Forks, which layers on top of the first two and can mean capital gains tax benefits. Investments in “Opportunity Funds” -- investment “vehicles” set up to invest in Opportunity Zones -- held for at least 10 years are eligible for a permanent exclusion of taxable income on new gains.
Gisi said this project is the first of dozens in his 27-year career for which he’s asked for any sort of tax break.
“We find that there’s three legs to this stool, with the hotel, the events center and food service. But it still doesn’t stand on its own,” he told committee members. “This is the first time, the very first time, in developing in 40-some communities that I’ve come and said we need some help on this one. This one is not feasible unless we can really tackle property tax costs and things like that.”
Edgewood Management Group, of which Gisi is the chair and CEO, is known for running and building senior living facilities, and Gisi said most of the 70-odd developments he’s built have been senior housing, multi-family housing, and so on.
The Olive Ann is vastly different than those projects. Gisi characterized it as a “legacy” project and, potentially, his last.
“I want to look back on it 10 years from now and say, ‘I did that,’” he told the Herald.