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Brandi Jewett, Forum News Service, Published May 28 2013

Rhombus Guys a potential buyer for historic downtown Grand Forks opera house

The Metropolitan Opera House located in downtown Grand Forks soon could have new owners whose current business venture is just around the corner.

The building’s owner, development firm Oriental Avenue LLP, is in the middle of negotiating a sale with Rhombus House of Pizza, the company behind Rhombus Guys pizzerias in Grand Forks, Fargo and Mentor, Minn.

“We’ve gotten a few offers over the years, and when they make sense we follow up on them,” said Lonnie Laffen, a partner in Oriental Avenue.

The building, located at 116 S. Third St., was built in 1890 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The structure and accompanying lot are valued at $1.2 million, according to county records.

Laffen said he didn’t know what Rhombus Guys owners Matt Winjum and Arron Hendricks had in store for the building’s lower level — its only remaining empty space. Winjum and Hendricks could not be reached for comment Friday.

Renovations

If the sale does close, the new owners would be setting up in a renovated building.

The opera house was severely damaged during the 1997 flood and was under threat of being torn down. Oriental Avenue stepped in, purchasing and renovating the structure, Laffen said.

“We saved it,” he said. “We thought it was an awesome old building.”

The building now features 21 luxury apartments on its upper two levels, but the 5,000-square-foot first floor has remained vacant.

Some of the opera house’s renovations were accomplished using a Community Development Block Grant disaster assistance loan issued by the city. The loan funds are provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The loan would be transferred to Rhombus Guys if purchase is completed. The $600,000 loan is forgivable, with $20,000 forgiven annually if the owner remains in compliance with loan terms until the balance reaches zero in 2035. Its current balance is $440,000.

The transfer must be approved by the City Council. It will be discussed by the council’s finance committee Tuesday evening, which will make a recommendation to the entire council.

Previous offer

Tuesday’s meeting will mark the second time this year Oriental Avenue and a potential buyer have come before the council.

Dan Sampson, owner of Omega Properties in Grand Forks, offered to buy the property in January. He told the finance committee he would pay full price for the property if the loan were forgiven, otherwise he wasn’t sure the deal would work for him and the seller.

The committee recommended the city forgive the loan if the sale went through. At the following council meeting, council member Doug Christensen said the committee didn’t have all the information it needed on the deal, but moved it forward so the full council could discuss it.

The decision to forgive the loan was tabled indefinitely because of uncertainty about the outcome of forgiving the loan rather transferring it.

Rhombus Guys has not asked that the loan be forgiven as part of the sale, according to a city staff report.

Call Jewett at (701) 780-1108; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1108; or send email to bjewett@gfherald.com.