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River of dreams: Fargo city leaders OK downtown riverside master plan

An architect's drawing showing how Fargo could develop its riverfront. This view shows developments near the First Avenue bridge and the new City Hall. Photo Credit: Image Group.

FARGO – Architect Richard Moorhead gave Fargo city leaders a vision on Monday night of towering hotels along the riverfront, a glass-covered convention center straddling First Avenue North and bike trails connecting parks on both sides of the river.

They’re part of an updated master plan for development of the riverfront from Mickelson Park in the north to the dikes just east of Island Park in the south.

Other parts of the vision include a skywalk linking the riverfront buildings with Broadway businesses, a bike-trail loop connecting parks on both sides of the river and trolleys connecting downtown Fargo with downtown Moorhead.

“Because of what’s happening now, all these things are possible,” Moorhead told the City Commission. “This is not a fairy tale.”

He’s talking about the construction of the new city hall, the construction of new floodwalls downtown, a proposed downtown convention center and discussions within the city about ways to move the Mid-America Steel plant out of its location along the river.

City commissioners praised his vision and voted to accept and file the report, which will help guide staff as it plans for riverfront development.

Five concepts

Moorhead’s firm, Image Group Architecture & Interiors, did consulting work for the city as it planned the new city hall, which is again at the center of his work, anchoring the riverfront developments.

He then discussed five concepts for developing these zones, all of which involve a Civic Plaza at its core, anchored in the north by the civic center and city hall, in the southeast by the library and in the southwest by various proposed buildings.

Four of the concepts assume a downtown convention center, though Fargodome officials have pushed for a convention center attached to the northside arena.

The five concepts include:

  • Concept 1: The convention center would overlook the river from where the Howard Johnson hotel is now, north of the new city hall, with a connection to the civic center. A new hotel connected to the convention center would be built where the Public Health Department is now; the department is moving into the former Sunmart on 13th Avenue in south Fargo. Another hotel tower would be built in the southeast corner of Civic Plaza with an attached parking ramp. New apartments would go where Mid-America Steel is now.
  • Concept 2: The convention center would straddle First Avenue North, taking up most of the southeast corner of Civic Plaza. A hotel and mixed-use development would go up at the Howard Johnson site. A concert hall and parking ramp would be built at the Mid-America Steel site.
  • Concept 3: The convention center would be built on the block were National Muffler used to be. It would be connected by a skywalk to a parking ramp and concert hall across the street in the southeast corner of Civic Plaza. A hotel tower would be within walking distance at the Mid-America Steel site.
  • Concept 4: The convention center would be at the Mid-America Steel site connected by skywalk to parking ramps to the east and west. The west ramp would be connected to a hotel tower at the National Muffler site. An apartment and office building would go up in the southeast corner of Civic Plaza.
  • Concept 5: There would be no downtown convention center. A performance hall would anchor the southeast corner of Civic Plaza with a mixed-use building and parking ramp across the street at the National Muffler site. Various residential buildings would be built at the Mid-America Steel site.

Entrepreneur Doug Burgum’s Kilbourne Group has been pushing for a downtown convention center and continues to work toward a downtown skyscraper west of U.S. Bank. Group spokeswoman Cassandra Maland said the group sent representatives to the City Commission meeting, but they left without speaking about it to the commission.

Moorhead said he didn’t develop the concepts with any particular developer in mind, but assumed that a convention center would be bound to attract more hotels.

Asked if he thought his concepts might be too ambitious, he said many businesses are coming to Fargo and they can and should be coming downtown, which means building more towers.

“We’re a big city.”

To see a copy of the city of Fargo’s riverfront study, go here and Page 308.

Tu-Uyen Tran
Tran is an enterprise reporter with the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He began his newspaper career in 1999 as a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald, now owned by Forum Communications. He began working for the Forum in September 2014. Tran grew up in Seattle and graduated from the University of Washington.
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