A plan to build a new hotel and event center downtown is moving incrementally through Grand Forks’ city government, but how might it affect the event center the city itself owns?
Grand Forks City Council members voted on Monday, Nov. 4, to formally invite Edgewood Development Group to submit an application for tax-increment financing for the Olive Ann Hotel and Events Center, another step of many in developer Phil Gisi’s plan to construct a multi-use building that would add a handful of ballrooms and dozens of hotel rooms in downtown Grand Forks. The smaller-scale events the Olive Ann would presumably draw — weddings, for instance — might pit it against the Alerus Center, which is owned by Grand Forks’ city government and run by a private contractor.
Anna Rosburg, the center’s general manager, said she’s been following the Edgewood development closely but hasn’t analyzed how it might impact the Alerus.
“I think that there’s a finite amount of event planners, events in general and a labor force to support those events,” she told the Herald. “I think that there is a saturated market when it comes to venue space as a whole in a smaller, tertiary market.”
The center hosts hundreds of events each year, many of which — like a Harlem Globetrotters game — wouldn’t fit in the Olive Ann. But the Alerus also hosts banquets, weddings, consumer shows and other, smaller-scale get-togethers that might be right at home in the proposed downtown development. Rosburg said she didn’t have data on the center’s revenue by event type and Alerus staff haven’t analyzed the market for event spaces in town.
But the developer Gisi said he has. A market analysis commissioned by Edgewood indicated that there’s still an unmet demand for event space in Grand Forks, Gisi said. He declined to provide that analysis to the Herald.
“As the population slowly grows and more and more events are scheduled, we’ll be competitive, but I think there’s plenty of business to go around,” Gisi said Thursday. “Particularly with the number of events that we saw that were leaving the community.”
The line to book a wedding venue in town can be years long, Gisi said, and couples often head out of town for their nuptials.
Neither Ken Vein, a City Council member who sits on the Alerus Center Commission, or Matt Walkowiak, an area business owner who chairs it, said they were worried about the Olive Ann plan.
“More intrigued,” Walkowiak said. “Whenever you add another option into city, municipality, whatever you want to call it, it takes a piece of the pie from someone.”
Vein told the Herald on Thursday that competition isn’t necessarily bad for the city and, after Monday’s Council vote, he said he thought the hotel and event center plan was great news and an exciting project for the city.
“We look forward to the challenge,” he said of the center. “But there will be implications because there will be some competition.”
Once Edgewood staff submit an application for tax-increment financing, it will go before a panel of city, county, school district and park district officials for further consideration.
In a nutshell, tax-increment financing means a redeveloped property can be treated, as far as local property tax rolls go, as if it hadn’t been touched.