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Future of Arbor Park's art taking shape after Grand Forks leaders meet

The future of Grand Forks' downtown is still coming into focus, but a Monday night meeting left it sharper than it was after last week's Arbor Park vote.

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Grand Forks City Hall, 255 N. 4th St. (GF Herald photo/Sam Easter)

The future of Grand Forks' downtown is still coming into focus, but a Monday night meeting left it sharper than it was after last week's Arbor Park vote.

The city's Committee of the Whole heard an update on plans for Arbor Park's future as well as the broader downtown area on Monday night. While a start date to build a condo and commercial building on the park still has to be set, the process of moving the art out of Arbor Park is taking shape, with items leaving the 15 S. Fourth St. park as soon as July.

Monday's discussion was an opportunity for city leaders to revisit the Arbor Park issue after the public referendum on its fate, decided last week, had pressed pause on the 15 S. Fourth St. park's development for months. Committee members alternately asked city staff about art ownership, especially given that some of the items in the park have been added by private citizens.

The three largest pieces of art-the gazebo-like centerpiece, the metal hand and the "obelisk"- are all city-owned and will be kept and relocated, said Meredith Richards, a city planning official. Other pieces will be more case by case. For example, historic sandstone pieces will likely be preserved, but lighting poles might not.

Park District officials are expected to assist in preparing the park for construction.

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"The Park District, as people who do landscaping for a living, they're going to tell us, you can spend thousands of dollars to salvage these pavers, but, probably, if it's a paver you can just go out and buy, it's not a good use of funds," Richards said after Monday's meeting.

That removal will clear the way for construction, with development and purchase agreements for the land expected to be finalized soon with Dakota Commercial and Development, the condo project's backers. The full cost of the likely five-story building is expected to be about $7.5 million.

Monday's discussion also explored the city's broader vision for downtown Grand Forks. City leaders have been weighing sites like Arbor Park for downtown development, preservation or other improvements for months, but hoped to do so only after lengthy research process.

Recommendations from that process, built in part on a May public input meeting at the Empire Arts Center, suggest preserving Town Square, Kannowski Park, George Lee Park and Loon Park for long-term park use, per a city staff report. Loon Park is a neighbor of Arbor Park, situated on the opposite side of the same city block along South Third Street.

City Council President Dana Sande said the city could issue a notice within the next several days asking residents to clear out any of their own additions to Arbor Park.

Budget update

Immediately following Monday's committee meeting, members of the group-all on the City Council-headed to the lowest floor of City Hall to hash out the budget. They spent considerable time highlighting the issues facing the future of a potential sales tax increase to support local roads and infrastructure projects.

City Council member Crystal Schneider said the vote, which could come anytime from September to November, is a high-stakes affair. A vote to raise the local sales tax 0.75 percent failed at the polls in November.

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"If it fails again, it would be hard to go back a third time," she said.

Other business

• The committee voted 6-0, with member Bret Weber absent, to set a public hearing on property tax incentives for Red River Biorefinery-a soon-to-be-built factory north of the city that will turn "feed stocks," like sugar beet tailings, into the kind of ethanol drivers find at the pump. If approved by the City Council, the five-year incentive is expected to save developers more than $450,000, offering full property tax exemption in its first year, 80 percent in its second, and so on. Developers hope to have the project completed in 2018.

• The city's Board of Canvassers met on Monday evening and certified the Arbor Park vote results from last week. Unofficial results on the night of the election were 2,451 against preserving the park in perpetuity and 2,269 "yes." The canvassing board certified final results as 2,451 "no" and 2,271 "yes."

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