Editorial: If downtown declines, more empty parks loom

The future of Arbor Park is in limbo as city leaders and lovers of green space seek a solution for the sliver of land in downtown Grand Forks. At present, it's a quaint park in a lot vacated after the 1997 flood. Some, including the Herald's edit...

The future of Arbor Park is in limbo as city leaders and lovers of green space seek a solution for the sliver of land in downtown Grand Forks.

At present, it's a quaint park in a lot vacated after the 1997 flood. Some, including the Herald's editorial board, want the park razed to accommodate a proposed five-story, $7 million building with condos and retail space. It's becoming an emotional issue, as parkland debates often do.

As the City Council and others consider the future of Arbor Park, we have two great hopes.

First, we hope the real stakeholders in the issue - those who truly want downtown businesses to succeed - make their opinion heard amid the clamor to save the park. It's true that some now are coming forward, highlighted by a recent announcement from the Downtown Development Association that its board wholeheartedly backs the development plan that ultimately would be the demise of Arbor Park.

That announcement is welcome, and it carries weight. But we wonder what took so long.


Now, other business-minded groups must come forward with their own statements of support for developing Arbor Park. The boards of the Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Corporation should throw their weight behind developing the land.

When it comes to downtown spaces, Grand Forks needs the businesses more than it needs the trees. After all, one of North Dakota's greatest public parks - the 2,200-acre Greenway along the Red River-is two blocks from Arbor Park. Town Square also is within about two blocks, and Loon Park is only one block away.

Grand Forks has downtown parks and public spaces covered. Now, the city needs more strong businesses that attract people and their wallets.

And speaking of people, we hope the 4,600 who signed the petition will actually frequent Arbor Park if it is, indeed, saved. We wonder where those people have been, because we highly doubt many of them have actually been to Arbor Park.

We also doubt they spend much time downtown, because 4,600 people regularly frequenting downtown would go a long way toward easing the financial straits of some downtown businesses. After all, several businesses have closed or moved from downtown in recent months, and the Herald recently reported the Amazing Grains natural-foods grocery-a downtown mainstay-is in jeopardy of closing. That's alarming.

If Grand Forks doesn't focus on truly rejuvenating downtown, the future will see more Arbor Parks, sad gaps where viable businesses once stood. That would be good for the very few people who'd actually visit those parks, but it would be bad for retail businesses.

To stay strong, remaining downtown businesses need more business, and that comes only when other stores are added to the mix. Parks and even libraries are not the answer to "saving" downtown Grand Forks; condos and healthy retail stores are.

Condos will bring more downtown dwellers, who'll seek groceries, sandwiches, coffee and other refreshments. More stores will provide a destination, benefitting other downtown businesses. They will pay sales and property taxes. Perhaps they even will buy newspaper advertising.


The overall potential is worth the effort to bring this development to downtown Grand Forks.

Meanwhile, this drawn-out debate about Arbor Park reinforces the sense that Grand Forks isn't a business-friendly place. That's not a good reputation, and the DDA, the Chamber and the EDC must vigorously fight to avoid that stigma.

To their credit, they all seem warm to the idea, but it's time to get loud about it.

Too many people get caught in the emotional debates that swirl around trees and green spaces. These debates are healthy and good, but eventually sound logic-not emotion-must rule.

If the park wins and the $7 million business development loses, Grand Forks will have failed to see the forest for the Arbor Park trees. And that's just bad business.

-- Korrie Wenzel for the Herald

Opinion by Korrie Wenzel
Korrie Wenzel has been publisher of the Grand Forks Herald and Prairie Business Magazine since 2014.

Over time, he has been a board member of the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp., Junior Achievement, the South Dakota Historical Society Foundation, United Way, Empire Arts Center, Cornerstones Career Learning Center and Crimestoppers.

As publisher, Wenzel oversees news, advertising and business operations at the Herald, as well as the newspaper's opinion content.

In the past, Wenzel was sports editor for 14 years at The Daily Republic of Mitchell, S.D., before becoming editor and, eventually, publisher.

Wenzel can be reached at 701-780-1103.
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