Advisory Services Panel — Downtown Grand Forks, ND

Downtown Grand Forks, North Dakota

Date: September 7-12, 1997
Location: Grand Forks, ND
Chair: Smedes York
Subject Area: Disaster Recovery, Economic Development, Sustainable Development

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The Assignment
The winter of 1996-1997 was one of the worst in Grand Forks’s history, bringing nearly 100 inches of snow. The snowpack and rapid warming that followed caused a “500-year flood.” Over two-thirds of Grand Forks was flooded, and nearly all of the city’s 50,000 people had to evacuate their homes. The downtown, which lies parallel to the river’s western bank, was most affected. During the flood, a number of downtown buildings caught fire and burned; several were entirely lost.

Before the flood, Grand Forks’s core had begun to evolve from the primary office and retail center of the region to more of a residential, governmental, and educational center. But much of the downtown remains damaged and vacant, as uncertainty continues to surround the future of the downtown core. The most important components of that uncertainty are concerns about the nature, location, and timing of a new flood protection system.

The ULI Panel suggests that Downtown Grand Forks:

  • Become the symbolic and physical “heart” of the region: an exciting gathering place with restaurants, specialty shops, entertainment, festivals, and open space along the river, plus housing that offers easy access to downtown amenities and views of the river. The panel suggests that downtown include a traditional town square, located on the site of what is now the eastern half of City Center Mall.
  • Contain and celebrate the Red River: The top priority in the panel’s proposed plan or any plan must be the protection of the community from the river, to ensure that the flooding tragedy that occurred will never be repeated. After consulting with the Army Corps of Engineers, the panel suggests constructing a floodwall that follows the alignment of the alley between Second and Third streets from University Drive on the north to Kittson Avenue on the south the development of a new, bi-state Red River Park that wi II feature a new water basin to enhance the river’s amenity and recreational value.
  • Cluster activities into three principal land use districts: (I) a residential, retail, and entertainment district; (2) the ex-isting government and educa-tional center. composed of major institutional employers; and (3) a new financial center. The activity centers would be connected by street-level retail activity, upper-floor apartments, and an array of civic amenities like street trees, light-ing, paving, sculpture, fountains, and banners.
  • Use the River Forks Commission to market and promote the downtown, river-related events, and the region.
  • In the short-term: Complete the demolition of unusable structures; clear, grade, and seedlots as an interim measure to prepare them for development; perhaps building a skating rink/farmers’ market; engaging a historic preservation consultant to prepare site-specific develop-ment proposals; and rehabilitating existing housing in key areas.
  • In the long-term: Develop site-specific plans for infill and new housing, assemble sites for strategic developments, address zoning and other regulatory issues, hire a director of development, and prepare a detailed infrastructure improvement plan and budget.

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