A Grand Forks Public Schools leader said she objects to a plan to add alcohol service and ax-throwing to a Grand Forks family entertainment center.

Grand Forks City Council members have been kicking around Northern Air Family Fun Center’s application for a license to sell beer and wine in two spots there, one of which would also contain several ax-throwing stalls. Cynthia Shabb, a School Board member who lives near Red River High School, told council members via email that she opposes the plan. The Herald obtained that email via an open-records request on Wednesday and spoke to Shabb then and again on Friday.

The potential license, plus a 2017 council vote that allows venues to ask to serve beer and wine at “special events” where people under the age of 21 are present, both contribute to a broader culture in Grand Forks where alcohol is the norm, Shabb told the Herald.

“We’re doing more and more, providing more and more opportunities where you mix ‘family friendly’ events with alcohol,” she said.

Shabb said she was a part of a Grand Forks County focus group in which participants worried about the use and culture of alcohol in the city, plus the number of city-sanctioned events that serve it. She wrote that she often hears from Grand Forks residents that there are not enough alcohol-free activities for children and teens in the community. She suggested in her email that the center’s ax-throwing area be open to adults only.

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live

City Council President Dana Sande characterized Shabb’s letter as “ridiculous” at the council’s meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 12. He told the Herald on Wednesday that he found the email ridiculous because the council doesn’t “govern based on hyperbole and innuendo” and because “implying if we pass the liquor license for Northern Air means we don’t care about our children and teens is just plain stupid.” Sande said he makes decisions based upon policy and precedent.

“I wonder how Ms. Shabb makes decisions?” he asked rhetorically.

Shabb Letter by Joe Bowen on Scribd

Center staff said beer and wine service would be restricted to a downstairs dining area adjacent to a kitchen and an upstairs area that includes the ax-throwing stalls. Kids must be 13 or older to throw an ax, and minors must have a parent participate as well, according to Northern Air Co-owner Bryan Lee. City leaders’ power extends only to the business’ application for a liquor license, but their discussions have often encompassed the ax-throwing portion of Lee’s plan.

But Shabb isn’t the only government leader with reservations about allowing Northern Air to sell wine and beer.

City Council member Sandi Marshall said earlier this month that she had reservations about “yet another” place where kids and minors mingle with adults and alcohol. And council member Katie Dachtler often has questioned the value or importance of alcohol service at family-focused events and businesses, including an annual street fair outside City Hall where council members voted to allow canned beer sales.

The center’s license application has been bouncing for weeks between Grand Forks’ Committee of the Whole, where City Council members give preliminary consideration to city business, and the City Council proper, where they can give final approval.

The committee asked Lee, one of the center’s four co-owners, to clarify some parts of the application in September. He brought it back in late October, and the committee quickly and unanimously forwarded the application to the council for final consideration. But, at a Nov. 4 meeting, some council members said they were having second thoughts and the council sent Northern Air’s application back to the committee for further discussion.

On Tuesday, the committee once again voted to send the application to the council, which is set to consider it for final approval again on Monday.