Our view: If funds exist, fix Grand Forks' iconic paddlewheel

Seems like an obvious “yes,” doesn’t it? After all, it is one of the most notable – and possibly most photographed – local landmarks.

Herald pull quote, 4/22/23
Herald graphic

Should the city of Grand Forks make repairs or renovations to the water feature in Town Square, on the corner of DeMers Avenue and South Third Street?

Seems like an obvious “yes,” doesn’t it? After all, it is one of the most notable – and possibly most photographed – local landmarks.

But what if it costs $500,000? Move forward with the project or abandon it?

We say fix it, and here’s why: Grand Forks, for all of its beauty as a good, clean community, lacks great scenery in a traditional sense. The Red River is picturesque, as is the Greenway, the paved and well-maintained path and green space that follows the river through city limits.

Beyond that, there isn’t a whole lot to give the community a real identity – a picture postcard, so to speak.


The paddlewheel is located at a busy downtown corner, marking the entrance to Town Square, a place where people gather throughout the summer months for concerts, farmers markets and a number of other events. Although Grand Forks doesn’t technically have a true Main Street, this is the town’s “main street” – lined with an increasing level of vibrancy.

The paddlewheel itself is an ode to Grand Forks’ history as a riverboat city. For years, the structure included water falling over the wheel and into adjacent ponds.

It’s been plagued by troubles in recent years, though. In 2017, the Herald reported that “visitors to the Town Square of downtown Grand Forks might have noticed something a little off – the square’s iconic entrance, a paddlewheel sculpture that doubles as a water feature, has been dry all summer.”

The plumbing was flawed, the city said back then, and needed “decent-sized” repairs. It’s either been dry or in various stages of disrepair since then. The wheel still stands, but water does not flow over it.

Now, the City Council is considering whether to reconstruct the wheel and its water feature. At a meeting earlier this month, the council reviewed plans and specifications for the project, and approved hiring a firm to design a long-term solution. As proposed, the project will remove and replace the foundation for the ponds and update the piping and controls for the water feature.

The price tag: $500,000.

As reported by the Herald, Community Development Director Meredith Richards called the price “shockingly large.” She’s right.

But the funding exists, she said.


Of the $500,000, some $435,000 will come from the city’s sale of Corporate Center I, a building formerly owned by the city. Another $65,000 will come from the city’s Beautification Fund.

“So while it necessarily wasn’t planned that we would spend a half a million dollars on this element, we do have the funding for it,” Richards said at the meeting.

The dollars the city gained from selling the Corporate Center can be used for local projects like this, according to Mayor Brandon Bochenski. Otherwise, he said, they might have to go back to the federal government, since the dollars to purchase Corporate Center I were part of a federal loan.

For now, it’s just an idea, according to the mayor.

Preserving history, adding beauty and interest to Town Square, and providing an iconic spot for photos and community marketing is actually a very good use of these dollars, despite that “shockingly large” price tag.

Especially when it appears a funding source is available.

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