SOUTH FORKS PLAZA
South Washington Street / US 81 and 17th Avenue South
Grand Forks, North Dakota

A small, enclosed shopping arcade, known as NORTHBROOK CENTER, opened in the city of Bismarck in either 1959, 1962 or 1964. This mini-complex is sometimes cited as North Dakota's first mall. However, the NORTHBROOK property was so small that it's entire area (of 84,370 square feet) would almost fit inside the south anchor of a much larger mall-type complex built in Grand Forks.

SOUTH FORKS PLAZA, the Peace Garden State's first regional-class shopping mall, was designed by the Grand Forks-based Wells-Denbrook firm. It was developed, by H. Grant Jensen, on a 34 acre parcel, located 1.5 miles southwest of downtown Grand Forks. The center opened in seven stages between the mid-1960s and late 1980s.

The first operational store, 1-level (71,000 square foot) Kmart, began business February 8, 1964. The second anchor, a 1-level (50,000 square foot) Sears, was dedicated October 8. This store was part of a northern mall section completed in 1965.

A fully-enclosed SOUTH FORKS PLAZA consisted of two sections, with their mallways not connecting. Most stores had interior and exterior entries. Charter tenants included Del's Coffee Shop, Leonard's Barber Shop, Stonegate Pets, Kinney Shoes and a Merle Norman Cosmetic Studio.

The two sections, and their mallways, were connected with an addition dedicated in November 1973. A subsequent expansion, completed in 1977, included the in-mall Plaza I & II Cinema. SOUTH FORKS PLAZA now encompassed approximately 275,200 leasable square feet.

A major retail rival came on the scene in August 1978. The Dayton-Hudson Corporation's COLUMBIA MALL was built 1 mile southwest of SOUTH FORKS PLAZA. Housing 571,800 leasable square feet, COLUMBIA MALL established itself as the mall in the entire region, relegating the SOUTH FORKS property to second-class status.

A 51,000 square foot addition was built onto SOUTH FORKS PLAZA in 1989. Known as The Pavilion, it was a convention-type facility, which hosted various shows and pageants. The next expansion of the complex was completed in 1991. The existing Kmart was renovated into a Big Kmart-format store, increasing its area to 95,000 square feet. The mall now encompassed approximately 351,400 leasable square feet.

Rumors of the Sears at SOUTH FORKS PLAZA moving to COLUMBIA MALL surfaced in early 1988. However, the SOUTH FORKS store was remodeled between May and September, putting the rumors to rest....for a while.

Eventually, the rumors were confirmed. Sears opened at its new COLUMBIA MALL store August 12, 2000. The old location at SOUTH FORKS PLAZA was subdivided into five smaller stores, including a Columbus, Ohio-based Big Lots, which opened in 2002. The other stores and services taking the old Sears space were the North Dakota Ballet Company, Family Dollar, Zimmerman's Furniture and Aaron's Sales & Lease.

SOUTH FORKS PLAZA had changed hands in January 1996. Its new owners were the Chattanooga-based Provident Life & Accident Insurance Company. They sold the property to Denver-based J. Herzog & Sons, in June 1997.

A local congregation, the Hope Evangelical Covenant Church, had opened a temporary sanctuary in the mall in October 1995. After the shuttering of The Pavilion, they purchased it and converted it into a 50,000 square foot worship hall, which was dedicated in April 1999.

Facelift renovations was performed on SOUTH FORKS PLAZA in 1998 and 2001. The latter, a 250 thousand dollar project, entailed revamping the interior with a "turn-of-the-century" motif. A carousel was also installed in Center Court. As a facet of this remodeling, the official name of the complex was changed to GRAND CITIES MALL in August 2001.

In 2007, the GRAND CITIES MALL Big Lots was shuttered. It was replaced by Play It Again Sports, a Minneapolis-based used sporting goods and consignment store. The Hope Evangelical Covenant Church acquired the shopping complex in March 2015.

The congregation decided to maintain the mall's function as a retail center for the foreseeable future, but wanted to expand church facilities into vacant selling space. Plans were made for the establishment of daycare, pre-school and adult education centers. Church offices were also moved into the mall.

Sources:

"Grand Cities Mall" article on Wikipedia
Grand Forks County, North Dakota property tax assessor website
http://www.jherzog.com
http://www.hopecovenantchurch.org
http://www.bismarckpride.com