Leaders discuss redeveloping Grand Forks' Civic Auditorium
Grand Forks city leaders may invest more into downtown as part of a proposed roadmap of the district's future. Doug Christensen, chairman of the City Council's finance committee, said Wednesday he'd like to set aside funds as the city seeks out i...
Grand Forks city leaders may invest more into downtown as part of a proposed roadmap of the district's future.
Doug Christensen, chairman of the City Council's finance committee, said Wednesday he'd like to set aside funds as the city seeks out interested developers for such projects as new townhouses and a grocery store.
The city wouldn't buy land, but it could prepare land it already owns to make it more attractive, he said.
One of the biggest lots is the one occupied by the Civic Auditorium, which has been without a tenant for much of the time since its replacement by the Alerus Center in 2001.
Urban Development Director Greg Hoover said the last he checked, the estimated cost of demolishing the building was $300,000. Spending that amount might be worthwhile, he said, because the lot would be more valuable without the building than with it and, if a developer builds there, the city could collect property taxes.
So far, Christensen said there's $1 million returning to the city from the rental rehab loan program the city created after the 1997 flood. There may be federal funds as well, he said, because the district qualifies as a low- to moderate-income area,
The downtown road map emphasizes more housing, neighborhood services such as a grocery store or drug store and specialty retailers such as florists and used book sellers. City officials and downtown business owners helped develop the proposal with market data from consultants.
Finance committee members got a briefing about it Wednesday but there was little in-depth discussion.
A new gateway
All the options that came out of the road map dealt with the Civic Auditorium lot in some way. It and the empty field and parking lot across First Avenue North are the last really big chunks of land available for development downtown.
One option includes a mixed use building with a grocery store on the ground floor and residential units in several floors above. It would be just behind the US Bank building. There'd be a park with a pond abutting the two.
Hoover said it would be one of the first things drivers see coming across the DeMers Avenue overpass, and would make an ideal gateway into downtown.
Farther on First Avenue, the road map envisions new commercial buildings and nearly two dozen townhouses.
The roadmap also calls for a new pedestrian bridge parallel to the Sorlie Bridge on DeMers and new retail and residential spaces in East Grand Forks.
But, wait, isn't there a lot of empty retail and office space in the two cities' downtowns?
Two floors of the city-owned Corporate Center north unit are vacant and there's more vacancies in the old First National Bank building across the street. East Grand Forks' Riverwalk Centre mall, half filled with a popular movie theater, has vacancies, too.
Consultants at Minneapolis-based Maxfield Research said in their market study that perception may be part of the problem. Lease rates for retailers are lower downtown than in the city as a whole and this has attracted small retailers. By their nature as small retailers, a higher percentage of them tend to fail within a few years, even if they were not downtown.
In fact, downtown has had a florist and two book sellers. All are gone, though some not for financial reasons.
The seeming failure of such small retailers, though, have given rise to a perception of downtown as a failed retail location, the consultants said.
Given that many retailers prefer busy corridors such as South Washington Street, Columbia Road and 32nd Avenue South, they said, the best businesses for downtown are those that don't require as much visibility, such as niche retailers.
A modest-sized grocery store could help other retailers by boosting traffic to the area, the consultants said. All would benefit from the growing number of residents downtown, they said.
City leaders had earlier succeeded in bringing two sets of residential developers, resulting in the Elite Brownstone condos and Current apartment complex on North Third Street.
More residential units were to join them in the form of another Elite Brownstone project farther north, but Hoover said developers at Schoen Associates have decided not to proceed. The city will have to seek other developers, he said.
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