Ideas aplenty for Grand Forks Herald building

Attendees gave their thoughts about what the city should do with its new acquisition

A greenhouse. Collaborative office spaces. A board room. A spot for teens to hang out or a classroom for the University of North Dakota. A place to grab a cookie and a coffee, or take salsa lessons, or record a podcast.

Those were some of several ideas floated Tuesday at a preliminary planning meeting for the Grand Forks Herald building, where nearly 30 people from myriad public and private institutions brainstormed ideas for the iconic downtown building.

“I think we’ve all been to communities where we’ve seen majestic buildings that were flea markets or something like that,” said Keith Lund, president and CEO of the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp. “And I don’t know that we were at any risk of something like that happening, but I just didn’t want to personally have this building start down that trajectory.”

The city agreed to buy the building from Forum Communications Company for $2.75 million last spring. The sale was for the building only; the newspaper still is owned by Forum Communications and the Herald’s news, advertising and business staff remains in the building in downtown Grand Forks.

City staff hired JLG Architects to help devise a master plan for the building, which has been the paper’s home since it was rebuilt after the flood of 1997. City Administrator Todd Feland said the Herald building needs to complement City Hall, which sits about 100 yards away.

JLG staff polled attendees about broad concepts they’d like the redesigned building to realize.

Attendees indicated they’d prefer “updated” and “unique” features over respecting and preserving the building’s history. Meanwhile, Peter Johnson, a staffer at UND’s Alumni Association, noted that the two aren’t mutually exclusive.

They also preferred an aesthetically appealing building over a budget-conscious one — Lund, for example, suggests not starting with a budget. Attendees also said they prefer open and flexible spaces over closed and controlled ones, and collaborative ones over private and quiet ones.

“Our students want that Starbucks feel,” said Terry Brenner, Grand Forks Public Schools’ superintendent. Central High School sits across the street from the building, and the district leases classroom space in the Herald building, too.

Attendees generally indicated they’d prefer vibrant public spaces over safety and security.

“This question makes me think of Town Square, which feels like it should be a very vibrant public space, but it doesn’t feel very safe and secure for me,” said Blue Weber, the executive director of the nonprofit Downtown Development Association. “The reason it doesn’t feel safe and secure is because it’s not a very vibrant public place. It’s an event space, and so I actually think by creating a more vibrant public space, you’re adding people, you’re adding activities, you’re adding a lot more safety and security.”

City staff are working to schedule a pair of similar workshops in August.