Experiential tourism is the way forward for Grand Forks. At least that’s what we’ve said before in previous editorials in this space.
A recent report by The Washington Post stokes those flames again.
Published in Thursday’s e-edition of the Herald, the report said that “to visit America’s newest ski resort, follow the Jersey Turnpike, exit at MetLife Stadium and Meadowlands Racetrack, and head next door to American Dream. Which, of course, is a mall.”
The highlight of that shopping center?
North America’s first indoor, year-round ski and snowboard slope. It comes with 5,500 tons of snow and a few trees. It even has a chairlift.
Early projections indicate that upwards of 600,000 people will visit the slope in its first full year.
An accompanying photo showed no crowds; actually, it looked rather deserted. It makes us wonder how it possibly can pay for itself, since it cost $110 million to build.
No matter, because it’s the thought that counts. Downhill skiing in a shopping mall is just the kind of outside-the-box thinking that needs to happen as large retail stores close and leave behind massive buildings.
In Grand Forks alone, we can think of several large building shells that previously housed businesses like Kmart, Sears, Macy’s and Hornbacher’s, but which now sit empty.
Is the answer a ski slope?
No, probably not, due to cost and the financial risks associated with it. Even though the New Jersey facility is located just 30 minutes outside New York City, it still is raising doubts whether it can make it financially. Another story we found, in the magazine Outside, noted that “The question now is: Can it attract enough skiers to survive.”
So no, Grand Forks likely will never have an indoor ski facility in the old Kmart building. The point, though, is that outside-the-box thinking is needed to reinvigorate the city’s tourism industry after the two factors decayed the region’s Canadian shopping traffic.
First, the Canadian dollar flipped and made it less lucrative for our northern friends to shop in our stores. Then, the retail crash that continues to take stores like Sears and Kmart has reduced the offerings for those who do come here.
That means fewer people visiting Grand Forks, fewer people shopping here and fewer people staying in our hotels.
But we still have tourism – albeit nontraditional. We have numerous major concerts. We have health care. We have Division I college sports and an array of restaurants.
Because of that, there is hope. But now, the region needs to consider every single kind of tourism option. It’s already being done by various groups.
The key, though, is for everyone in the community to open their minds and really consider the options.
Big buildings are empty.
People want things to do.
We want them to come here.
Think: What can it be? What can it be?