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Grand Forks Herald: Gov. Doug Burgum tours downtown Grand Forks, says developments can be a regional draw

October 6, 2021

Following a roundtable discussion with local civic and business leaders, Burgum took a lengthy walking tour of several downtown developments, meeting with local business owners along the way. Tuesday’s visit was a chance for local leaders to share a progress report with Burgum on ideas discussed at a 2018 meeting, when Burgum came to Grand Forks to talk about his Main Street Initiative project.

Gov. Doug Burgum listens to local businessman Hal Gershman during a tour of Gershman’s new downtown steakhouse, “Harry’s,” during a tour of downtown Grand Forks Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Gov. Doug Burgum has high praise for local downtown development efforts, and especially a series of construction projects he said puts the city in a strong position for future growth.

Following a Tuesday, Oct. 5, roundtable discussion with local civic and business leaders, Burgum took a lengthy walking tour of several of those developments, meeting with local business owners along the way. The visit was a chance for local leaders to share a progress report with Burgum on several ideas originally discussed at a 2018 meeting, when Burgum came to Grand Forks to talk about his Main Street Initiative project.

And Burgum had a lot to see on Tuesday, a day that became Grand Forks’ chance to show off projects just getting started, others further along on construction schedules and some just completed. The projects include the 1940s-themed restaurant Harry’s Steakhouse, a number of mixed-use developments like Mill Square and The Argyle, which will house the offices of JLG Architects, and the soon-to-open downtown Hugo’s grocery/Alerus bank, part of a larger project called Pure Development. The walking tour ended at the site of The Beacon, a residential and retail complex with an outdoor plaza for public events, located on the grounds of the former Townhouse Hotel. There, Burgum and principals involved with the project met to toss the ceremonial first shovel of dirt.

“What a gorgeous day for North Dakota (and) what a fantastic day for Grand Forks,” Burgum said. “This is a city that’s on the move and (moving) in the right direction.”

Burgum said the developments are significant for the region because every city in North Dakota is competing for workers. It’s projects like The Beacon, developed by Epic Companies, that can help attract and retain people to fill local jobs, he said. Downtown development projects meet the three pillars of Burgum’s Main Street Initiative:

  • Building vibrant communities.
  • Attracting a 21st century workforce.
  • And doing it on existing infrastructure – no new roads or miles of sewer system need to be installed.

“This is way more than real estate development that is going on here. This is community building, and it’s community building in a way that’s going to shape the future of this state and this region,” Burgum said.

Development, growth and figuring out what it takes to attract people to the region all were part of the theme Burgum stressed Tuesday. Starting at 11 a.m., he met with about 40 people in the community room at the Grand Forks Herald building to hear updates from a variety of sectors, from business and nonprofit organizations to Grand Forks Public Schools and more.

Progress made since a similar visit in 2018 – whether that be the implementation of a downtown bicycle sharing program or the fact that the 701 co-working space now has about 80 regular members – all help to build a community in which people want to live, Burgum said.

Mayor Brandon Bochenski said workforce and economic development efforts being done in Grand Forks closely align with work happening at the state level. Grand Forks City Council members recently approved demolishing a defunct hotel near the junction of Highway 2 and Interstate 29 to potentially make way for a “Career Impact Center,” a place to either assist young people with a heads-up on career education, or to help those looking to train for work in a different field. It comes at a time when the state is promoting such centers.

The state will add $10 million of its federal American Rescue Plan funds to the pot of $70 million for career and technical education centers in North Dakota. Grand Forks’ plan for such a center comes in at $20 million, half of which will be provided by the state, should $10 million be raised locally. The ARPA money could see the state chipping in another million for the project for health monitoring purposes, said Eric Ripley, the school district’s director of career and technical education.

Bochenski thanked Burgum for pandemic and infrastructure assistance for Grand Forks, as well as for his leadership, from which Bochenski said he has taken cues.

“I’ve always believed that leadership needs to be fiercely strong to be effective, but also kind and compassionate and that those don’t oppose each other – that they actually supplement each other,” Bochenski said. “I think I’ve learned a lot from watching your leadership in that respect, and we just can’t be more grateful.”

Downtown Grand Forks Tour

The walking tour began on North Third Street with a stop at women’s clothing boutique Kittsona. The shop is located in the Mill Square building, and has apartments above the retail space. Burgum chatted with the shop’s owner and staff about renovating the space and opening for business. Burgum appeared to admire a glass garage door opening off of the building’s side.

“I’m glad you stopped in,” said owner Tessa Hiney, perhaps surprised by the impromptu drop-in.

Walking south down the recently widened street, Burgum said he could see outdoor dining happen in the future. Getting a street design correct, he said, is part of the recipe for creating a vibrant downtown, which in turn leads to ownership in a community and sustained development.

“Giving some balance to pedestrians in a downtown corridor versus always making it about the automobile is great,” Burgum said.

The group of a few dozen people then continued south along Third Street and held a brief ribbon-cutting at the intersection with DeMers Avenue. The ceremony celebrated the reopening of the street, set to happen at noon on Wednesday.

From there, the governor made stops at the 701 co-working space and took time to chat with people there, before moving on to the Argyle, touring the building’s as-yet-unfinished second floor. On the way, he dropped in at Bd, a custom metal works and jewelry store, after owner David Badman greeted him on the street.

Other stops included the Edgewood Corporate Plaza building, where members toured a space for the soon-to-come Cloud 9 event center on the building’s top floor. The group then toured Harry’s Steakhouse, which Burgum said would be a tool local employers would use for recruiting people.

“Every company in town that’s trying to recruit a doctor, a professor, an engineer, whoever they’re trying to get to come to North Dakota, will bring them here for dinner and try to close the deal,” Burgum said.

Responded owner Hal Gershman: “That’s so nice of you. Thank you.”

The group then toured Grand Forks’ newest supermarket, Hugo’s Pure Market, set to open in about three weeks. Hugo’s CEO Kristi Magnuson Nelson met Burgum to show him around the partially-stocked shelves, and give bits of historical information about the shop’s roots in the city, which date to 1939.

The tour culminated at the construction site of The Beacon, which Bochenski said was a “long battle” to get off the ground but will be a “game-changing project” for downtown and the city as a whole.

On the way to the work site, Burgum continued on the day’s theme of needed development, and reiterated that the projects can act as a draw for the region. The developments, he said, are the result of work done at multiple levels, by people willing to work together.

Burgum said he’s pleased to see all sorts of sectors coming together in Grand Forks, including the university, K-12 schools, the city, the county, the state, health care, retail and private businesses.

“(Everybody’s) all pulling in the same direction,” Burgum said. “That’s part of what makes Grand Forks such a special community.”

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