Grand Forks hotel proposal opposed by Gazette, landlord, CIBC

Publisher told the hotel is “needed” for city to host events
A view from the sidewalk on Market Avenue, directly beside the CIBC building.

A request from a developer to buy a lot from the city to build a 33-room boutique hotel downtown isn’t sitting well with the publisher of the Grand Forks Gazette, a tenant of the building at 7330 2nd Street.

The May 27 regular meeting of City Council heard from Chris Hammett, publisher of the Gazette and Ken Flagel, owner and landlord of the building, which houses the Gazette and MLA Russell’s office. Both came to make it clear they are against council hearing a request to sell a plot of land directly behind the building, currently being used as a parking lot for CIBC staff and customers, and a loading zone for Gazette delivery staff.

Going through slides, Hammett pointed out the property that the developer, Mathew Isabelle, wants to purchase goes from the sidewalk on Market Avenue, right to the lane at the end of the building, covering the entire back of the building.

Side view images show the building design will leave only a narrow walkway behind, with no room for the trucks delivering pallets of papers or drivers who distribute them.

Apart from deliveries and driver access, the back door is used as the entrance and exit for staff, she said, with the front door locked at night and staff leaving through the back.

“My fear is safety, first and foremost, because all of a sudden, we are going to have a tunnel behind our back door,” said Hammett. “Roly’s back entrance is closer to the parking lot, ours is at the other end. I’ve already had people sleeping there, doing drugs there. Once that’s concealed, it’s completely sheltered and I’m concerned we are going to run into more problems.”

Hammett added CIBC will also be having a tough time with access from the sidewalk to the back and ATM, as well as parking, even with a driveway behind, it would be too hard for cars to get in and out.

When the Gazette moved back into the building in 2013, a top priority was a back door loading area, she said. This development will make this impossible. Gazette staff will have to reconfigure the entire office. Trucks will have to unload pallets of papers at the front on 2nd Street and the Gazette will need reserved front access as the four drivers that pick up and distribute papers are back and forth all day on paper day. Currently, there’s a storage bin in the back for drivers to come and take bundles.

This development will mean those bins and back stairs will be gone.

“We don’t want to move, Ken doesn’t want us to move, but we need loading access and a back door,” Hammett said. “We had no idea that the city would even consider selling that property. The only change I could see in the future was that they would possibly pave it. It’s a useful lot for both Gazette, CIBC and customers.”

She has also shown renderings to CIBC staff and was told they are sending copies to upper management, along with similar concerns over parking and access.

She pointed out a park by Granby River Dental on Riverside Drive that isn’t being used as a parking area that would probably be a better location for a hotel due to being near the river. The developer said he was concerned over noise from the fire department, she said.

“He is okay with renting the apartments that he built across the street from the fire department, but he’s concerned with noise for hotel guests,” she said. “ The whole downtown hears sirens when trucks are dispatched for emergencies, so there’s no getting away from it.”

Flagel added the size of property is 125 feet-by-45 feet and 40 feet high. This will make it the tallest building in the downtown, dwarfing them and completely changing the landscape.

But for him the biggest issue is parking.

“Most, if not all, hotels and motels have onsite parking. This hotel has 10 parking spaces underneath. This will eliminate 23 parking spaces downtown if and when it is at full capacity. It’s described as a boutique hotel. It doesn’t come off as boutique to me.”

During discussions, Councillor Neil Krog said it would be nice to see from above, but agreed loading dock access could be an issue. However, he asked if safe access was a problem, could a locked door on the end of the walkway remedy that problem?

Councillor Christine Thompson said while these are real concerns, the city needs a real hotel to make it easier to host more events.

“We are unable to host events and tournaments that involve children and youth,” she said. “I am not prepared to ask the developer to reduce the footprint or change the design.”

She also added that when she returned to Grand Forks after college, she worked at the Gazette for a time and staff parked by what is now the music store, and there was never an issue with loading papers. At the time, they were printed in the Gazette. She asked if the Gazette could lease a parking area near the music store to have bins for drivers to pick up?

Hammett pointed out that the parking lot on the south side of the pawn shop is owned by their landlord and is reserved for Gazette and MLA Russell’s office staff and customers. Still, there are days where there is no parking at all when all staff are in both offices at the same time.

As far as loading and unloading, Hammett noted that back in Thompson’s time at the Gazette, the newspaper occupied the entire building, with a loading dock in the side lane. That access is located on MLA Russell’s side of the shared building. The only access for drivers now is through the back door.

It was ultimately recommended to receive the delegation as information and make the developer aware of these concerns to see what we can do to remedy some of the potential problems.

All approved the recommendation.

An overhead view of the footprint of the new hotel.

About the Author: Karen McKinley

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