Grand Forks’ new BMX track is nearing completion, and the track’s operators expect things will mostly be ready for a series of state qualifying races starting on June 25.

Still, there’s a lot of work to be done at the Red River BMX track. The track itself is ready, minus some retaining walls and finishing touches. Bleachers are on the way and need to be set up, and the volunteers working there need to build a tower for the announcer, get the concession stand ready and finish work on the starting gate.

The BMX track was the most shovel-ready project amongst other ideas, including a proposed children’s museum, indoor athletic facility and redevelopment of Columbia Mall, brought forth by city leaders to help grow Grand Forks into a destination for visitors, and add quality of life improvements for residents. Track volunteers are hoping it will be a draw, especially if they host a national event.

“I think it would be huge,” said Danny Weigel, a city council member and volunteer at Red River BMX. “For BMX here in Grand Forks, it's continued to grow year after year, so that's been really positive. Anytime you bid a national or try to get a national here, it puts the track on the map.”

And putting the track on the map can add up, in terms of dollars spent in the community. Weigel said the track operator from a course in Aberdeen, S.D. informed him the economic impact of an August 2020, national race there, amounted to approximately $1 million.

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A drone photo show Grand Forks' new BMX track in an early stage. The track is nearly competed, and bleachers will soon be delivered. The track will add an announcers tower and a concession stand. (submitted photo)
A drone photo show Grand Forks' new BMX track in an early stage. The track is nearly competed, and bleachers will soon be delivered. The track will add an announcers tower and a concession stand. (submitted photo)

According to Weigel, South Dakota has two BMX tracks sanctioned by USA BMX. Grand Forks’ track will bring North Dakota’s total to two, and Minnesota has 13. It’s time, they believe, to bring some of those riders to the region.

“If you can get a three day national (race), they'd be coming in on Thursday and they'd be staying till maybe Monday,” said volunteer track operator Dave Kurtz. “It's nice added revenue for the community, and it would be nice to get more people up here to say hey, North Dakota can do this.”

Weigel, standing near the three-turn, 1,200 foot long track’s starting gate on June 8, said he has been working with the management team at the Alerus Center to create a pitch to USA BMX officials to sell the track as a viable venue. USA BMX requires ample parking near the track and easy access to hotels, for riders and their families. Kurtz noted that the Red River BMX track ticks those boxes, since it’s located south of the Alerus Center’s expansive parking lot, and is near several hotels on 42nd Street. Weigel added that the Alerus Center could also host official BMX races during the winter.

Weigel said the track will host a three-day race event starting on June 25, to get riders qualified for state level competitions.

Other city development ideas still conceptual

According to City Administrator Todd Feland, officials are still working to further flesh out the city’s “master plan” for a roughly 20-acre site south of the Alerus Center. Proposed plans include a children’s museum, indoor turf facility, an outdoor playground and possibly an indoor pool.

“We're still in that phase of doing some space utilization needs, and then kind of push that into the Alerus Center site,” Feland said, but added that the work being done is infrastructure planning for the area, nothing has been finalized, and those projects could wind up at other areas in the city.

Jill Nelson, community relations and marketing manager for the Grand Forks Park District, said the district has been seeking out feedback from various user groups, soccer, gymnastics, baseball teams and more, about their specific needs for a facility, and whether or not it should operate year round. Like Feland, Nelson said the idea for an indoor turf facility is still at the conceptual stage, and she stressed the need for careful planning.

“We do know that there is a need for it,” Nelson said. “The park district, the city and I think all the different association groups would love to have something like this, but we want to make sure that we're thinking this through.”

As for a children’s museum, Feland said the idea is being pursued by a private group. The city, he said, is focusing on working with the Grand Forks Park District, UND, the Columbia and Grand Cities malls and others, to meet experiential needs for the region.

Sally Miskavige, of Opp construction, is part of a private group working on ideas for a children’s museum. She declined to comment on the plans, due to the idea being in its early stages. The group will likely have more information later this year.

Mixed use at Columbia Mall?

Also in the works is the idea to redevelop a portion of Columbia Mall into a mixed-use facility. Feland said the city has been involved in talks with GK Development, which owns the mall, about a redevelopment plan there. Feland likened the idea to that of downtown development project The Beacon, set to be built where the Townhouse Hotel once stood. That project calls for multiple buildings for apartments and condos, along with retail space and an outdoor public plaza.

At the mall, that public space would be indoor, and would need to serve the function of filling in an experiential gap in the city. GK Development officials, Feland said, are looking at how they could partner with the city, and city officials need to examine tax incentives that would allow the project to get off the ground.

“Our goal, on behalf of the city, is to increase (the mall’s) property value, because it has slid over the last several years,” Feland said. “Number two, we want it to be an attractor and to drive economic development and growth and quality of life in our community.”