5 things to know today: Heated debate, Walz budget, Redevelopment shelved, Hotels purchased, Bus service
A select rundown of stories found on InForum.
1. Bills targeting transgender sports participation in North Dakota renew heated debates
From the Bismarck Tribune via Forum News Service
A North Dakota legislative panel on Tuesday heard a raft of bills opponents have called discriminatory toward transgender people, prompting familiar arguments to resurface around topics such as school sports participation.
The House Human Services Committee scheduled a day of hearings involving seven such bills, including two that would restrict transgender girls and women from playing K-12 and college sports.
Supporters say the proposals ensure fairness in female sports; opponents say the legislation is discriminatory and harmful toward transgender people and would repel major sports tournaments from the state.
But a recent rule change from North Dakota high school sports regulators may have beaten Koppelman to the punch.
The North Dakota High School Activities Association’s Executive Board last year altered a rule applying to transgender students after the NCAA made a similar change to its policy.
The revised policy essentially bans transgender girls who have undergone hormone treatment from participating in girls sports, but the association’s director may allow a trans student to participate in girls sports if the school demonstrates through medical evidence that the athlete has no physical competitive advantage.
The previous rule allowed trans girls to play girls sports after completing one year of hormone treatment.
The association has taken no stance on the proposed legislation.
2. Walz budget calls for direct payments to 2.5 million households, Social Security income tax cut
A $65.2 billion two-year budget proposed by Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz would include direct checks of up to $2,600 for 2.5 million Minnesota households and cuts to the Social Security income tax.
The final piece of Walz’s budget, released Tuesday, Jan. 24, would represent a 26% increase from the last two-year budget, and includes what the governor touted as the biggest tax cut in state history for the “greatest number of Minnesotans across the spectrum.” Overall, the budget would result in $8 billion in tax cuts for families and older Minnesotans.
“This is a balanced budget, but it's far more than that. It is a transformational budget,” Walz told reporters Tuesday as he, Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan and state commissioners presented the budget to reporters at the Department of Revenue in St. Paul.
“Minnesota has always been progressive in its taxation with an expectation that people pay their fair share, and those that have more pay their fair share, too,” he continued. “And all of us benefit from that.”
The governor is required to make his budget recommendations to the Legislature in January of each odd year. But the final budget is the product of negotiations between lawmakers and the governor.
Walz released details of his “One Minnesota” budget recommendations in four installments.
3. Herberger's store redevelopment shelved; mall owners say planning continues
Redevelopment of the former Herberger’s store at the West Acres Shopping Center has been shelved - at least for now.
The developers for a housing, parking and commercial building on the site of the former Herberger’s department store haven't completed a final financial analysis and are no longer working on the project, a city official said.
The project is a victim of interest rates that have been pushed 2% to 3% higher nationally than when the project was first proposed. Construction costs have also stubbornly remained 25-30% higher than pre-pandemic, said Jim Gilmour, the city’s director of strategic planning and research.
A mall official counters that the project is not done yet.
“We are actively working on redevelopment plans for the former Herberger’s site,” West Acres Development’s COO Alissa Adams said in an email Tuesday, Jan. 24.
“The project proposed to the city last year was in very preliminary stages, and since then we have moved in a new (but still exciting) direction,” Adams said.
She added that the Herberger’s building, empty since the chain closed all of its stores several years ago, is not up for sale and work continues to prepare for an eventual redevelopment.
“Asbestos abatement on the site is complete, and we’re working on interior demolition. I am not able to share details yet” on new development plans, Adams said.
The news that the Herberger’s project had been shelved was presented by Gilmour to the city’s Economic Development Incentive Committee (EDIC) on Tuesday.
Last March, the EDIC gave unanimous approval to the Herberger’s store redevelopment plan , the $55 million West End Development Project. About $6.5 million in tax increment financing (TIF) was being sought for the project.
The high court is expected to release a ruling in the case this year.
4. EPIC Companies acquires Fargo Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express hotels
The Fargo Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express hotels have a new owner.
West Fargo-based EPIC Companies bought the hotels from Fargo-based Brandt Holdings for $28 million, EPIC spokeswoman McKenzy Braaten confirmed Monday, Jan. 23.
The purchase of the West Acres Shopping Center-area properties was completed in December of last year, Braaten said.
“It's kind of one of those things that just happened behind the scenes,” Braaten said.
“We’ve had a really great working relationship with Brand Hospitality (Group) over the years. The opportunity came up and … we took and (are) kind of looking forward to seeking what happens there,” Braaten said. “As of right now, we don’t have any plans for the site. It’s going to be business as usual, still managed by Brandt Hospitality Group.”
She said there will be no significant changes visible to patrons in how the hotels operate in the near term.
5. Bus service will connect Fargo flyers to Minneapolis airport
A new luxury motor coach company is preparing to offer nonstop service between Hector International Airport and Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport.
Complete with leather seats that recline, USB ports, electric outlets and free wifi, the Landline bus service will begin on March 1 and will cost much less than a tank of gas if passengers are headed to a connecting Sun Country Airlines flight.
Sun Country Airlines is a hybrid, low-cost air carrier that flies in and out of Hector, said Shawn Dobberstein, executive director of the Fargo Airport Authority.
“This is a process that has been in the works for some time, and the goal is to prove that there is a market for Sun Country Airlines,” said Dobberstein, adding he hopes to break ground on additional terminals at Hector in 2024.
Liz Thiesse, business development manager for Landline, said tickets can be booked online at www.landline.com and www.suncountry.com . For Sun Country passengers, one-way tickets are $15, and round-trip tickets cost $30.
Landline will offer rides for passengers with connecting flights, making two stops at the Minneapolis airport, as well as students wanting a ride home or families planning a weekend getaway. Bus tickets for people who are not Sun Country passengers will cost $29 one way, Thiesse said.
“For Landline, we are nonstop, and we are a very low-cost carrier with a premium motor coach," she said. "Travelers will be very surprised at the quality of how they’re being transported at such a low cost."
On March 1, the first bus will leave Minneapolis at 4:30 p.m. and arrive at Hector at 8:28 p.m. Landline’s second bus will leave Hector at 9:30 a.m. on March 2 and arrive in Minneapolis at 1:28 p.m.