The word “auction” might conjure up images of a speed-talker in a cowboy hat selling cattle or vintage cars to the highest bidder. Grand Forks’ city government is working on an auction of sorts for one of its two corporate centers that will presumably be much more sedate.

City Council members, acting as the Jobs Development Authority, unanimously authorized on Monday, July 19, the public sale of Corporate Center 2 via what city documents refer to as a “sealed bid/auction process.” An actual sale is still at least a month away, and City Attorney Dan Gaustad and staff at Red River Land Company, a Grand Forks-based real estate company that specializes in selling farmland but has experience with commercial property, are working on the particulars of that bid/auction.

“I would term it a collection of sealed bids followed by an oral bidding, which is a very structured event, as opposed to the crying of an auctioneer, for instance,” John Botsford, Red River’s vice president, told the Herald on Monday, July 26.

He said the company and city determined that process would best “fit the situation,” but declined to say why that’s the case. Gaustad did not return a Herald request for information on Monday afternoon.

“We don’t really have the details,” Botsford said. “We are working on structuring the mechanics of the sale and timing and whatnot. We’ll be glad to share all that ... we just don’t know, ourselves, right now.”

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Broadly speaking, that type of sale means interested buyers submit a sealed, written bid that meets a minimum threshold in order to participate in the auction, according to Community Development Director Meredith Richards.

“You can’t just show up and bid on it and start at five bucks,” she said. “If everybody submits the same minimum required bid, then it gives the opportunity for us, as the seller, to get more money and it becomes competitive.”

Emails indicate suitors

A June assessment of the two centers, which sit across from one another on DeMers Avenue in downtown Grand Forks, put Corporate Center 2’s value between $2.9 million and $3 million. City staff hope to get $3 million in exchange for the building.

Corporate Center 1 isn’t ready for sale, though, because it’s three “anchor” tenants have the right to buy their respective properties and hope to remain where they are.

A Herald records request for March correspondence about the corporate centers yielded a pair of possible suitors for them: Phil Gisi, a local healthcare and development mogul, and Sean McGarry, the grandson of the late UND mega-booster Ralph Engelstad. Gisi confirmed to the Herald last month that he’s interested in buying one or both of the centers. Chase Kolebuck, one of McGarry’s business partners, claimed that they had no plans to buy either. City staff have repeatedly declined to name other potential buyers, but have said six to eight people have asked for information about one or both.

A second Herald request for correspondence about the centers sent or received in April of this year didn’t yield much beyond an email from Sandy Norby, the director of design at office supply and design company Norby’s Work Perks, to Mayor Brandon Bochenski and City Administrator Todd Feland. Norby worried that an April report in the Herald made the city administration look “totally inept,” and she wondered why the buildings had not been appraised and why there was no process in place to sell them.

Bochenski told Norby that the city could have sold the buildings the prior fall, but their value “amidst the heaviest part of the pandemic” would presumably not have been very high.

“We still need to navigate the ownership rights held by the tenants in corporate center 1,” Bochenski wrote. “From reviewing documents it is clear the process was not written for an easy sale when adopted 20 years ago.”