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EDITORIAL: Lessons learned

OUR VIEW: City, UND leaders should identify the "something" missing from a process that "left something to be desired."

- Tom Dennis for the Herald

Source: Grand Forks Herald, March 21, 2002

The Federal Aviation Administration routinely investigates "near-miss" incidents between aircraft. UND, the school's Aerospace Foundation and the city of Grand Forks should do the same, now that a "near miss" has happened, and a crash has been narrowly averted.

The crash, of course, would have been the breakup of the project that's slated to build a Hilton hotel near UND. Asked Tuesday whether bureaucratic snafus had, in fact, threatened his project, Hilton developer Tom Arnot replied, "Yes, absolutely.

"I could have built a hotel in the time it has taken to negotiate this project," he fumed.

To their great credit, city and UND officials recognized the urgency of the problem and sat down Wednesday to solve it. They succeeded, so it looks as if the hotel will be built after all.

And that's terrific. But now, the parties should see whether such crises can be avoided in the future.

At the very least, Arnot should be "debriefed" and his criticisms and complaints heard. Is there a chance that he and others simply were "expecting too much" from the system and that the many delays were inevitable?

Yes, in fact, there is that chance. Time may be money to developers, but public officials answer to taxpayers, not stockholders. So, city and UND leaders must make decisions with due process and care.

Still, Arnot has won an award as the top Hilton developer in the country. He has worked with many cities and knows plenty about deal-making and red tape.

His thought on his Grand Forks experience would be invaluable, especially as the city tries to shake a shadowy reputation as a business-unfriendly place.

Could the city, the university and other parties have communicated better? Could the process have been more streamlined from the start? What "one-stop shop"-like structures could be set up to speed developers through their permits and paperwork, while still watchdogging the public's environmental and other interests?

Grand Forks' future is inextricably tied to UND, every city official knows. And the school's new focus on economic development means there are many more joint projects to come.

The Hilton experience suggests that the "development links" between UND and City Hall aren't as strong as they should be. Let's learn from this and make the needed changes now, before missed signals or other mistakes lead to an economic collision in midair.