A new BMX park is likely to open just south of Grand Forks’ Alerus Center by June 1. For local fans of the sport, it’s a flying leap into the sport’s national conversation, bringing a track big enough to host major events to northeastern North Dakota.
But for City Hall, it’s a step towards boosting the community’s appeal — a sorely needed move as the city emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic and competes for economic relevance. City Administrator Todd Feland said it’s likely the first of multiple new projects in the area.
“We need to be a city of choice,” Feland said. “We need to drive business, we need to drive workforce to our community. We need to drive quality of life."
The Grand Forks City Council approved the new BMX park on March 29 in a 6-0 vote that grants the local club, Red River BMX, a license to use a plot of land next to an Alerus Center parking lot. City Council member Danny Weigel — who also is a board member for the BMX club — said an Oregon-based specialist will arrive this spring and oversee the construction of a $50,000 dirt track.
"Having the track build that we have gone with, it beats one of the requirements so that we could bid and ultimately host a national (competition),” Weigel said — meaning more booked hotel rooms, meals ordered at restaurants and trips made to local retail outlets. “If you build it, they will come.”
A significant portion of the track’s funding will be from the club itself — with the local Parks District chipping in $10,000, Weigel said, and the local convention and visitors bureau offering another $10,000 for the track’s promotion (Weigel adds that, although he’s advocated for the project, he’s strictly a volunteer for the BMX club, and recused himself from Monday evening’s vote).
The city of Grand Forks is expected to contribute a five-figure sum — the final total isn’t clear yet, Feland said — to link utilities like electricity and stormwater drainage to the site.
The new track is just part of the city’s big development plans for the area. City Hall is in the early drafting phases of a “master plan” that will sketch out uses for the BMX park and surrounding land, Feland said. And city documents show leaders are thinking big — a children’s museum and athletic facilities and more.
And Feland said residents should be “confident” that those projects will result in real construction soon.
Local leaders are keen to boost the city’s profile after recent economic studies show that the city is lacking in “experiences” for visitors and potential new regional employees. That has spurred big interest in redeveloping land near the Alerus Center, as well as interest in new uses for the Columbia Mall and elsewhere.
Investments in those locations could be a big factor in the city’s future. Workforce has been relatively flat in Grand Forks for decades, even as Bismarck and Fargo regions have continued to grow.
And city leaders are still fretting after Grand Forks was placed on the proverbial chopping block this year by a federal agency re-evaluating its status as a “metropolitan statistical area” — an important designation that helps the city directly win federal dollars for local roads, buses and more. Grand Forks has grown more slowly than other large regional cities, and now finds itself on the wrong end of a national conversation that could soon downgrade it to a “micropolitan” area.
Gambits like the new development near the Alerus Center, leaders hope, will help juice local economic growth, bring more people to the city and keep the community regionally competitive.
But Feland points out this conversation is happening at just the right time. Soon, Grand Forks is expected to be able to use a big package of COVID stimulus funds to help chart its course ahead.
Plus, Congress is already weighing a significant infrastructure package, touted by President Joe Biden, that could deliver trillions to help boost ailing roads, bridges and more.
"It seems like a lot of things are coming together at the right time, coming out of this pandemic,” Feland said. “We should be very grateful with how Grand Forks and our region have performed both public health-wise and economically.”