Grand Forks Mayor Brandon Bochenski highlights quality of life, economic growth during State of City address
Bochenski’s address, held at the Alerus Center, was his first since he gave a virtual address in 2021.
GRAND FORKS – Mayor Brandon Bochenski reeled off a list of city accomplishments and highlights during his State of the City address Wednesday, showing special pride when he discussed economic development efforts and potential quality-of-life improvements in the community.
Bochenski’s address, held at the Alerus Center, was his first since he gave a virtual address in 2021. His speech, which came in just short of an hour, was followed by a social hour. Approximately 350 to 400 people attended.
Bochenski said the momentum in Grand Forks is still as strong as it was when he became mayor in 2020.
“In my 2021 address, I talked about the great optimism and momentum our community had coming through the pandemic, and I stand here today to proudly say that momentum has not let up,” Bochesnki said at the beginning of his speech.
That momentum was highlighted throughout the event as Bochenski talked about workforce and quality of life, along with ongoing projects that are addressing those areas.
Quality of life, Bochenski said, requires a community effort.
One quality-of-life project mentioned during his speech is the Center for Exploration, generically referred to as a children’s museum. Bochenski said the Grand Forks Children’s Museum Committee is raising $40 million in public and private funds to build the 30,000-square-foot facility.
“It’s been talked about for years, probably decades, and it’s finally coming to fruition,” Bochenski said. “It will be another great venue to stimulate our minds and imagination in the community.”
Last year, Altru gifted land across the street from Choice Health and Fitness for the Center for Exploration.
Proposed indoor sports and aquatics facilities also were mentioned as a need for the community. Like the Center for Exploration, the idea of an indoor multi-use sports facility and aquatics center has been discussed for years.
A goal, Bochenski said, should be to host competitive games or practices with amenities such as a turf field for soccer, football, lacrosse, baseball, softball and similar sports; a running track; and courts for basketball, volleyball and pickleball. Youth sports tournaments can be lucrative for a community, he said, as they bring a number of people to town.
Bochenski also said he is encouraging discussion for an indoor aquatics center, which would have a competitive swimming and diving pool, lap pool and other features. The Hyslop Sports Center at UND will be closing next year, creating the need.
“I can tell you simply that a community the size of Grand Forks needs facilities like these to support our entire region,” he said. “We’ve seen the concepts and locations for all these facilities (and) now it’s time to get the finances right. We’ll work hard to secure private funding interests, but we need to take a deep look at what a public funding model would look like without impacting the citizens of Grand Forks. Those are hard conversations to have, but they’re worth having to keep our community moving forward.”
A joint City Council and Park Board meeting is planned for later this month to continue the conversation.
In addition to projects related directly to quality of life, Bochenski touted economic development in the city. Economic development works hand-in-hand with quality of life, he said.
“Simply put, economic growth creates opportunity and in Grand Forks, opportunity (abounds). I will continue to work day and night to support our local businesses and secure investment in our community because I believe in our community. I believe In Grand Forks,” he said.
Development related to Epitome Energy, which announced its plans to build a soybean crush plant on the northern end of Grand Forks last year, are ongoing.
“On large facilities like this, there’s a lot of work to get to the finish line, but that work is worth doing. And you have a City Council and a city that’s willing to do the work and they continue to prove that,” Bochenski said.
The UAS and tech industry was another area of focus. Two recent additions to the industry include the Gorman Field UAS airport, which will be opening soon west of Grand Forks. When it’s open, it will provide businesses open airspace for flights and space for maintenance and storage.
The Hybrid Innovation Venture Engine (HIVE) in the former Grand Forks Herald building has also seen significant progress since it underwent renovations last year. Tenants for the space are lined up, he noted.
Other notable ongoing development downtown includes Franklin on Fourth, the Olive Ann boutique hotel and event center, and the Beacon by EPIC Companies.
Among some of the public-private projects Bochenski touched on was the Career Impact Academy, which is nearing construction near the intersection of North 42nd Street and Gateway Drive.
“Not only does this re-energize an important city corridor (but) it will have a direct impact on our region’s workforce, teaching trades that are desperately needed in our area, including welders, mechanics, technicians and nurses, just to name a few,” Bochenski said.
The project began with an effort to raise $10 million in private donations within the community, an effort that took less than two months. After that, the state committed matching funds for the project, although those dollars were held up at the federal level.
Along with thanking the community for getting the project off the ground, Bochenski thanked state legislators, who this year pushed to get the matching funds to the Grand Forks project – and similar tech centers elsewhere in the state – and also provided dollars to cover some increased costs that arose from inflation during the delay.
“It was a community effort and businesses stepped up to get the Career Impact Academy off the ground,” Bochenski said.
Halfway through his speech, Bochenski welcomed UND President Andrew Armacost, Altru CEO Todd Forkel and Lt. Col. Delbert Rivera, vice commander of the 319th Reconnaissance Wing at Grand Forks Air Force Base, to the stage for a discussion about the community. The light-hearted questions touched on the guest speakers' favorite aspects of Grand Forks and new things going on at UND, Altu and Grand Forks Air Force Base.
Along with thanking those in the various city departments who help run the city, Bochenski also thanked the community at large.
“We all want what is best for Grand Forks,” Bochenski said. “Because of that I am honored and proud to not just be the mayor of Grand Forks, but I’m proud to be a part of this community and I’m proud to call this place home.”