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What They Think: Push through TIFs for GF development

A year ago (May 3, 2017) the Herald opined — nay, wished — for a downtown grocery store that would become a focal point of future renovation in urban Grand Forks.

The editorial appeared in the days around the closing of Amazing Grains, the small co-op store that provided about the only easy-access grocery option downtown.

“Downtown residents and the city of Grand Forks should make a downtown grocery a priority,” we wrote in that editorial last May. “And local grocers such as Hugo’s should be intrigued by the possibilities of a small but busy downtown branch. … Not a whole-foods grocer. And not a convenience store, an outlet that residents typically don’t use for actual shopping. No, we’re thinking of a grocery — a place that would offer grocery selection and grocery prices, but in a smaller and scaled-down store.”

Our wish apparently is on track to come true. Grand Forks City Council members last week approved a “pre-application” for tax incentives on a new building downtown that — if it passes through the full TIF process — will cut taxes for a certain period. It would then prompt construction of a building with a grocery store and bank on the ground level, topped by apartments.

The proposed building will anchor the corner of Fifth Street and DeMers Avenue. Developer Kevin Ritterman said some of the apartments will be available as low- and moderate-priced housing, thanks to state housing incentive funding. On the first floor will be Alerus Bank and a Hugo’s Grocery.

Another project — a renovation of the downtown St. John’s building — also received preliminary approval.

These projects are good for downtown. Back when we wrote that editorial last year, it appeared in print just a few days before a visit by Gov. Doug Burgum, who told us then that TIFs — tax increment financing programs — used “in the right way” must be considered for development.

Are these TIFs being used “in the right way”? Yes, although detractors may say these projects don’t deserve a break. They might say the Hugo’s/ Alerus building isn’t worthy of an incentive because it’s aiding established businesses that already have a foothold in the Grand Forks business district.

We disagree.

Remember, TIFs simply allow a city to bank on the increased property tax that will come with the improvement. The city isn’t really missing out on anything because the increased property tax doesn’t currently exist without the development.

We can talk all day about improving downtown and boosting its vitality, but that cannot happen without modern development projects that will spur further development. It’s like a reverse domino chain — but instead of the pieces falling down, they stack up in order, one after the other.

This project isn’t an absolute certainty. Last Monday’s decision by the City Council was only to approve the “pre-applications.” It’s the first part of a process; the ensuing steps will include a review process — all done in the public eye. Those against the plan should discuss it with their City Council representative.

We, however, like it and look forward to this new, innovative and important downtown development.