After years of buildup and a lengthy bidding process, Grand Forks officials have approved the sale of one of two publicly owned corporate centers.

Members of the Grand Forks Jobs Development Authority, an economic development panel comprised of City Council members and Mayor Brandon Bochenski, voted unanimously on Monday to approve the sale of Corporate Center II to Grimsley Consulting LLC for $2.5 million. Tanner Grimsley, a leader at the consultancy, did not appear at the authority meeting and declined to say the plan for the building when contacted by the Herald earlier this month.

Authority members quickly agreed to approve the sale with essentially zero discussion, but members of the Growth Fund Committee, a subcommittee of the development authority, waxed philosophical about the sale at their meeting about 90 minutes beforehand.

There, some city leaders worried, at least in theory, about giving up rental income or selling below the appraised value of $3 million, while others noted that local leaders have planned to sell the center and its counterpart, Corporate Center I, for years and didn’t like the city competing with private landlords. The two centers sit across from one another on DeMers Avenue in downtown Grand Forks.

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“There’s nothing wrong with putting two and a half million dollars in the bank,” City Council President Dana Sande, who is not a subcommittee member, said at the first meeting. “But we’re getting a 10% return on our money right now, and I’m pretty sure that’s better than any other investment that the city of Grand Forks currently has.”

An accounting firm and a regional social security office rent 14,881 total square feet of space in Corporate Center II, and two first-floor retail spaces currently sit empty. The firm and the feds pay the city a combined $18,775 each month to lease that space, according to documents put together for prospective bidders earlier this fall. That totals $225,300 annually in gross rental income from the partially full building.

“The intent, I thought, was always to get out of the business of being commercial landlords,” Kyle Kvamme, a City Council and subcommittee member, said. “We’ve had so many issues with people not paying their leases and us not being able to hold things accountable. ... Let's move forward and let's just be in the business of governance, not compete with private entities.”

The corporate centers were built in the aftermath of the massive 1997 flood that devastated downtown Grand Forks. Their purpose was to save downtown, and that’s been accomplished, according to Bret Weber, a council member and president of the subcommittee.

“If I had the money, this sounds like a great investment, and I hope that Mr. Grimsley feels like he's made a smart business decision with this bid,” Weber said. “We've had a good ride, and it's time for us to move on, and to put this money to work elsewhere.”

Opioid treatment program, bond refinancing, sewage plant upgrades

In related news, council members:

  • Were briefed by Grand Forks Public Health staff on a plan to open an opioid treatment program at the Turning Point Health and Wellness building on 32nd Avenue in southern Grand Forks. The city is set to pay Arizona-based Community Medical Services $100,000 worth of federal “block” grants to set up the clinic, which is sometimes referred to as a methadone clinic. Parallel to that, local public health workers hope to get a $339,000 state grant for further opioid prevention, including a needle exchange and to subsidize addiction counselors and other programming at Spectra Health. City staff received the same grant in the fall of 2020, but for only $176,000.
  • OK’d the sale of $8.32 million worth of “refunding improvement” bonds, $1.81 million worth of “refunding improvement refunding” bonds, and $2.46 million worth of “sewer reserve revenue refunding bonds.” The first and most expensive bond issuance is set to pay for projects for which the city charged special assessments to residents. It’s a move the city makes each year. The remaining two are set to refinance, in effect, existing debt. City staff expect that will save $327,000 through 2027 and a further $255,000 through 2031.
  • Approved a contract with AE2S, a local engineering and consulting firm, to put together the final design and bid out the $13.7 million initial phase of the city’s $45 million-plus master plan for its wastewater treatment plant. Phase 1 of that plan would install a backup generator, improve piping, revamp safety measures and more at the sewage plant, which sits on the city’s northwestern edge. To pay for that plan, city administrators plan to spend $6.83 million worth of American Rescue Plan Act money and raise residents’ monthly wastewater fees by 2% annually through 2027.
  • Agreed to change bits and pieces of city code to make them conform to North Dakota laws that were enacted or changed at a state legislative session last spring. Also in that slate of changes is a measure that classifies the use of inhalants as a class B misdemeanor.