Grand Forks panel OKs hotel demolition, clearing the way for possible career and tech center
The Grand Forks Jobs Development Authority, a panel comprised of City Council members and the mayor, OK'd the demolition of the Grand Forks Inn & Suites, a move that would make room for a hoped-for "Career Impact Academy." Planners are still rustling up the money for the building itself, but operations costs would presumably still fall to the cash-strapped Grand Forks school district.
As City Council officials helped clear the way for a new career and technical education center for Grand Forks high school students, the president of the City Council made it clear he’s skeptical of the center’s financial future.
Council members and Mayor Brandon Bochenski, acting as the city’s Jobs Development Authority, agreed to pay Emerado-based Berger Enterprises $444,000 to demolish and remove the former Grand Forks Inn & Suites , a now-vacant hotel near the intersection of Highway 2 and Interstate 29.
The site is the leading landing place for a hoped-for “ Career Impact Academy ,” a $20 million building at which Grand Forks Public Schools students could dabble in – or get a head start on – future careers before they graduate. It’s unclear where, exactly, Grand Forks civic and business leaders would find some of that money. They hope to raise $5 million from private donors, another $5 million from city government and other public institutions, and then “match” that total with a $10 million grant offered by state leaders.
Removing the hotel makes a space for the academy, which previously was called a “Career and Technical Education” center. In the worst-case scenario, City Administrator Todd Feland told development authority members, the demolition would open up a good spot for any redevelopment.
But money for the academy building is only part of the financial equation. Once that $20 million is spent, who will pony up for equipment? And who will pay to staff and maintain the academy? Operations costs will presumably fall to the school district, and City Council President Dana Sande worries that academy planners were putting the figurative cart before the horse.
“I’m very concerned about how we’re going to pay for the operations of the CTE center,” he said. “I feel like the school district is somewhat being set up in this deal because we’re going to raise $20 million, we’re going to build a facility, and then the school district is going to be standing there saying ‘now what do we do?’”
In related news, development authority members:
- Agreed on an 11-year, $125,000 loan to HOPEful Beginnings, a nonprofit arm of HOPE Church that operates a preschool and childcare center listed as part of the church’s ministry in the Grand Cities Mall. That money, plus a $233,000 grant from the Bank of North Dakota, would pay down the principal on a $1.4 million loan the nonprofit took out to expand the daycare operation from 138 children to 278, according to documents supplied to development authority members. The city loan and the state bank’s grant would reduce the interest rate on the church’s nonprofit’s loan from 4.1% to 1%.
- Agreed to renew a lease agreement with the federal government that will keep a regional Social Security Administration office in Corporate Center II for at least the next 18 years. Under the agreement, the feds would pay the city $15,000 each month to use office space in the building. The city is set to own the corporate center until it finalizes a sale to a Thompson-based consulting company that bid $2.2 million for it in September. The buyer is set to assume all of the city’s contractual obligations, including the lease, when the building changes hands.
- And, after ending the development authority meeting and convening as the council proper, council members voted 4-3 to hire Sharon Lipsh to be the city’s new public works operations director. Voting against were Council members Katie Dachtler, Bret Weber and Ken Vein. Lipsh, who's been Walsh County's highway superintendent since 2008, is set to be a contracted employee rather than a “classified” one whose job is spelled out in city code. Some council members and the mayor have held a long-running debate over the merits of classified and non-classified employees, and the three council members who voted not to hire her stressed that it was because they favored classified employees and not because they had qualms with Lipsh or her qualifications.