Editorial: Focus on Crookston, not other cities
You couldn’t help but feel for poor Craig Tweten last Monday evening in the Crookston City Hall council chambers. A steady stream of people opposed to a multi-use apartment building and town square being proposed on and near the former American Legion property were making their way to the podium to try and convince council members to reject the project, or at least modify it significantly.
One detractor in particular wasn’t just raising his voice. He was yelling, angered about the project that spurred the public hearing as well as other things that he brought up in loud fashion. When he wanted further explanation, he shouted from the podium, “Get him up here!” He was referring to CHEDA Executive Director Craig Hoiseth, seated on the other side of the crowded chambers, but it was Tweten, the primary person behind the project proposal, that got up and went to the podium to make his best case for the project becoming a reality in Crookston.
He made a valiant effort. He was positive and polite and courteous, even when people in the audience interrupted him. It is a good project, after all, and not that hard to sell. And if some of the sensible suggestions that Crookston business owners, rental landlords and concerned citizens offered last Monday could be incorporated into a modified project – incorporating more parking options and keeping town square where it is two blocks to the north – it would not only be a better fit for downtown, the cost the City would be responsible for would drop significantly.
Where Tweten erred was in comparing Crookston to several other cities in which his development firm and partners, Dakota Commercial, Community Contractors and JLG Architects, have done similar projects. The trio of firms has a strong history in Crookston, too, with various successful building projects, but when it comes to a newly constructed, multi-use apartment building downtown, Tweten didn’t have anything in Crookston to compare to.
Still, Crookston people don’t want to hear about similar, successful projects in Grand Forks. Compared to Crookston, Grand Forks is a retail and entertainment metropolis. Crookston residents don’t want to hear about Mandan, North Dakota, either. Or even East Grand Forks, which has a beautiful multi-use apartment building downtown anchored by Up North Pizza on the ground floor. Downtown East Grand Forks was, to put it kindly, nothing special before the flood of 1997. But after that disaster, relief funding was spent on basically turning much of downtown toward the river and creating a retail and entertainment district there, anchored by Cabela’s. Crookston has the river, which we miraculously held off in 1997, but nowhere close to the money necessary to accomplish something like that.
But Crookston’s downtown itself and its large historic district should be the envy of developers far and wide. It’s only when you take a closer look at our amazing downtown that you realize the scope of work that needs to be done to make it a vital, vibrant, happening place.
This project, again, if modified in order to address the chorus of concerns, would boost downtown. Without it, it’s more of the status quo. Do you see a useful future for the American Legion building? Be honest.
But the changes might not be palatable in the developer’s eyes. And if that’s the case, there’s another option. No, it’s not downtown, but APG Development’s multi-use apartment proposal on North Broadway south of Casey’s General Store is possibly back on the table, after looking good in 2019 and, then, for reasons that still escape logical explanation, went by the wayside.
There’s a market for market-rate, new and nice apartments in Crookston; an updated housing study indicates the community could use around 40 more units. One of these projects would fill that need, but two would be too much.
We should feel fortunate that we potentially have two possibilities. What will be most unfortunate is if, for very different reasons, both projects end up being a no-go. If that happens, better explanations might be in order.