To those paying attention to visitation trends in Grand Forks, two events last week bode well for the city.

First, approximately 150 employees of the Spectra Company spent several days at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks for the company’s 2019 International Marketing, Sales and Box Office Conference.

Spectra, a Pennsylvania-based company, operates the Alerus Center on behalf of the city of Grand Forks, which owns the facility. Of all the places Spectra has facilities – and there are 150 nationwide – the company chose Grand Forks.

Certainly, the fact that the Alerus Center was recognized as the 2018 “venue of the year” for Spectra helped with the decision.

In 2017, the city hired Spectra to run the Alerus Center. The impact has been obvious: In 2018, there were 101 more events at the Alerus Center than the year before, including the record-setting Metallica concert.

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Also, 2018 was the first time the Alerus Center had hosted three concerts that brought in more than 8,500 in paid attendance.

It’s quite an accomplishment and reflects as well on the city as it does on Spectra and its management crew at the Alerus Center.

As the city’s retail tourism is threatened by various store closures, Grand Forks must concentrate on experiential visitation. That means a focus on concerts, business conferences, sporting events and the like must be a top priority for the city.

Spectra’s decision to bring its conference here is verification that the company is pleased with the Alerus Center’s transformation. Grand Forks residents should be, too.

Another contingent also spent time in Grand Forks last week. A group from GK Development – which owns Columbia Mall – toured the city, speaking with businesspeople, civic leaders and Chamber of Commerce members. The group told the Herald the visit was more than just an exploratory mission, indicating that efforts to transform the mall are in the works.

No doubt, Columbia Mall faces a serious challenge. Two of its anchor stores closed, while several other smaller stores and the food court also have vanished. It has created notable vacancies at the shopping center and that’s an unnerving trend for Grand Forks, which relies heavily on retail tourism.

As mentioned in a front-page story in Friday’s Herald, the problems at Columbia Mall are not unique to Grand Forks; it’s a phenomenon that is happening nationwide. And the mall owners cannot convince Sears or Macy’s to keep their stores open when those companies are struggling in a drastically changing retail environment.

While the GK Development contingent declined to provide specifics to the Herald about its plans or potential changes to the Columbia Mall, the group’s mere presence in the city is a step forward.

One member of the GK group told the Herald that “turning around Columbia Mall is a top priority” for the company.

That’s good. And the people of Grand Forks needed to hear that.