Our view: With tourism in Grand Forks, a ‘rising tide lifts all boats’

Few people associate tourism and Grand Forks in a traditional sense, but the mayor’s speech offered hope of improving that stigma.

Herald pull quote, 5/17/23
Herald graphic

Tourism was a big focus of Mayor Brandon Bochenski’s State of the City speech last week , although the actual word “tourism” was rarely uttered. It was a refreshing change of pace after more than a year of discussion about big business projects.

Few people associate tourism and Grand Forks in a traditional sense, but the mayor’s speech offered hope of improving that stigma.

For example:

● Bochenski discussed the proposed $40 million children’s museum, which recently got a $5 million boost from the Legislature. It will be a “great venue to stimulate our minds and imagination in the community,” he said.

The facility – to be built on land donated by Altru Health System – is projected to have an economic impact of more than $4 million annually.


● During an onstage interview segment, the mayor and Altru Health CEO Todd Forkel discussed Altru’s mission to become a destination for “medical tourism.” Forkel first publicly mentioned this in an interview with the Herald earlier this spring. During the mayor’s event, Forkel said that within “the large geographic region we cover in the Altru system is the opportunity to increase the traffic that comes this way.”

He said the number of outpatient visits at Altru last year – things like doctor visits, physical therapy, X-rays, lab work and the like – was approximately 800,000. Interestingly, only about half of those clients came from Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, and Forkel believes “even greater opportunity” exists.

“It just highlights the ‘rising tide lifts all boats’ theory,” Forkel said.

● The mayor said the old water treatment plant property on the south edge of downtown will soon be renovated, bringing two blocks onto the city property tax rolls. Due to the city’s flood protection system, he said “a majority of (downtown) buildings have turned their back on the river.”

Grand Forks should take a cue from East Grand Forks, Bochenski said, and embrace the Red River with new development. We agree, since the more people can see and appreciate the Red River, the more the city will benefit in terms of visitors – and tenants – downtown.

● At UND, the mayor noted, a “facelift” has occurred with a number of new and rejuvenated buildings. Coming soon will be a new UND softball complex, part of the Memorial Village construction project. That diamond, the mayor said, “will be used by UND, local and regional teams.”

● Bochenski also discussed youth sports and their potential impact on community visitation. At one point, he asked audience members to raise their hand if they have traveled to watch children or grandchildren participate in youth sports. Many did.

“I have literally lived in hotels in Winnipeg, Fargo, Bismarck and Sioux Falls over the last few years. I would much rather sleep in my own bed and spend that money in local businesses just a little bit more often,” he said.


He noted that in March, the city hosted the junior Grand Am Basketball Tournament. He said it had an economic impact of some $4.7 million, a number that is “too big to ignore.”

“The ability to host not only hockey but soccer, basketball, volleyball, BMX and pickleball tournaments has turned into big business. This is why we have stepped up to promote a future indoor turf and court facility in our community. I also encourage the continued discussion of a competition pool in our community.”

The mayor is right – all of these initiatives must be strongly considered for the future of the community. After all, as Forkel said, “a rising tide lifts all boats.”

Simply put: Grand Forks needs more tourism, more visitors and more things for its residents to do. It’s not just a quality-of-life issue, but a business opportunity – a big opportunity at that.

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