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Chamber to keep offices in GF

Leaders of the Chamber of Grand Forks and East Grand Forks have decided not to move the Chamber's headquarters across the Red River to EGF, despite the gift of land, they announced Monday.

Leaders of the Chamber of Grand Forks and East Grand Forks have decided not to move the Chamber's headquarters across the Red River to EGF, despite the gift of land, they announced Monday.

Instead, the Chamber will keep its offices where they've been since 1982, in the former and historic Northern Pacific Railroad depot at 202 N. Third St.

After the chambers of commerce from each city merged four years ago, one of the incentives for East Grand Forks members worried about disappearing into the much larger Grand Forks numbers was that the new Chamber could be based on the East Side.

Of the approximately 925 current members of the Chamber, about 103 are from East Grand Forks, Chamber officials said Monday.

At the time of the consolidation, there were many more members from East Grand Forks and the total membership was more than 1,000, according to published reports at the time.

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But after discussing the move for about two years, the Chamber's board of directors said staying put would be a better fiscal deal.

"It makes more business sense to stay where we are at," said Barb Schultz, an East Grand Forks member and chairwoman of the Chamber's finance committee. "We want to increase service and value to our members, rather than spend money on bricks and mortar, basically."

About two years ago, the city of East Grand Forks donated to the chamber the empty lot downtown on Demers Avenue and Fourth Street Northwest where a Holiday gas station stood years ago.

Initial plans two years ago were to find a buyer for the current building and erect a new one on the East Grand Forks site.

Instead, the Chamber simply will give the land back to East Grand Forks, Schultz said.

In a news release, Schultz and Board Chairman Rick Duquette said the Chamber "wants the city of East Grand Forks to have the opportunity to move forward on developing the prime land it donated to the Chamber for a new office site."

Plus, the current building is paid for and takes in money from renting out the north half of the building, they said.

Development in both cities has slowed substantially over the past two years.

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But Schultz said that, nor the lower membership in East Grand Forks, were factors in the Chamber's decision to remain in Grand Forks.

The consolidation of the two chambers into one took effect in June 2005, after a vote in late 2004 got 94 percent support for the merger from East Side businesses and 90 percent from Grand Forks members.

At the time of the vote, Joanne Otto, owner of Top Quality Motors in East Grand Forks, said her first thought about consolidating was, "Oh, my gosh, we'll be devoured by the giant."

Grand Forks has about 52,000 people, East Grand Forks about 8,000.

But the plan to put the new Chamber's offices in East Grand Forks mollified her, Otto said at the time, when she was the new -- and final -- chairwoman of the East Side chamber.

Monday, Otto said she's still an active member of the Chamber and declined to comment on the decision not to move its headquarters to East Grand Forks.

Chamber President Barry Wilfahrt on Monday said the Chamber will continue to work with businesses throughout the region.

Related Topics: BARRY WILFAHRTLOCAL BUSINESS
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