MOORHEAD - Chris Volkers is all in on Moorhead’s downtown.
As construction in downtown Fargo fills some of the last of that city’s gaps between buildings, Volkers says there’s plenty of opportunities for investors on the east bank of the Red River, with plenty of parking lots and underused land ready for bricks and mortar.
“Moorhead is rockin’ here,” Volkers says, pointing to apartment and mixed use projects that have opened or will be finished soon.
“I think it’s Moorhead’s time. It is. It’s Moorhead’s time. It feels like it,” Volkers said Wednesday, July 17.
“We’ve got so much momentum. I think we’ve had a change of leadership, both at the council level and at the city and economic development level. It’s different times and different philosophies,” she said.
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“We’re just seizing the opportunity. And I think we’ve got a lot of the right people in the right places, and we’ve got enthusiasm and momentum,” Volkers said. “It’s getting better, and better and better. It feels like this is Moorhead’s opportunity. It’s Moorhead’s time. Probably like Fargo felt 10 years ago, right?”
Every underused surface parking lot or empty office or storefront represents a potential shot at rebuilding Moorhead’s downtown, Volkers said.
Think of it as upward mobility - four and five stories at a time.
“It’s exciting. We’re so hoping to get people downtown, young people, the college students, that’s what we’re going for. We need people. In fact, I moved downtown purposely, to set the tone, … I thought I should put my money where my mouth is,” Volkers said. “That’s where we should be. That’s where the people should be. That’s where the investment should be right now for Moorhead. So, yeah, it’s exciting.”
Kevin Bartram is one of several developers who have led the charge to reinvigorate the once down and out downtown.
The local architect reforged the Kassenborg Block, and just opened a new 45-unit apartment complex at 913 Main Avenue (the site of the former Knights of Columbus building).
What’s old is new
This fall, Bartram plans to complete his remake of the massive three-story, 84,000-square-feet, Simon Warehouse on Center Avenue. The imposing 1922-vintage brown brick structure goes from housing potatoes to housing people, with 65 new apartments hitting the market.
After that, Bartram will turn his attention a block west to 904 Center Avenue to begin forging the 1920s vintage armory building into an event center.
Bartram envisions the armory, which has been home to a couple of car dealerships in previous lives, as a great place to host weddings, concerts and other large gatherings.
“We enjoy taking old buildings and turning into something new again,” Bartram said Tuesday, July 16. ““So the inventory of those two buildings (the warehouse and armory), that was an attraction right off the bat.”
Remodeling old buildings does require some help from the cities involved, he said.
Moorhead also has “a pretty attractive program in their urban zone for tax breaks, so that’s helpful, very helpful,” Bartram said.
The apartments on Main cost $6 million to complete. The Simon Warehouse project will add up to about $8 million, and turning the armory into an events center will run about $4 million.
But Bartram said the investment in Moorhead’s downtown is sound.
“I think it’s kind of a hidden gem, in the way that it gets to be more and more expensive to do some projects in downtown Fargo. There are some economies to be had in downtown Moorhead,” Bartram said.
“The proximity to the two colleges, three colleges really when you throw MState into the mix, is really, really good,” Bartram said. “I think there’s a lot of opportunity down there.”
Too nice to tear down
A couple doors west of the Bartram’s armory/car dealership building, Moorhead developer Andy Skatvold is remodeling the Wright building at 814 Center avenue.
Skatvold, who figures he’ll spend $2 million revamping the building, plans to have tenants move in this September.
The front of the building will house Swing Barrel Brewing Co. on the first floor and basement, while the second floor will have a 2,500 square foot, four-bedroom, three-bath apartment.
The rear of the building, which was torn down and rebuilt, will house dog-grooming and massage therapy businesses, Skatvold said Wednesday, July 17.
“The building was too nice of a shell to tear down,” the lifelong Moorhead resident said.
“It’s time for Moorhead to get new businesses and new people living in downtown,” Skatvold said.
An EPIC addition
One of the nicest additions in the Fargo-Moorhead area is the Block E building, which dominates the busy corner of 8th and Main with its distinctive curved glass, cement and aluminum facade.
The $6 million investment by West Fargo-based EPIC Companies is one of the signature properties in the downtown resurgence, with the Usher’s House restaurant on the first floor, and a mix of offices and apartments above.
“For us, Block E was kind of a big scene changer. It just kind of came up and it took awhile for everything to come together with the planning. And now that it’s up and running … It’s exciting. There’s a lot of opportunity there,” said McKenzy Olson, vice president of marketing and public relations for EPIC.
EPIC recently announced plans for another project, a 40,000-square-foot mixed-used building on a parking lot near the Red River and Center Mall.
The $7 million Bolig Square will add another 30 apartments at the corner of 4th Street and Center Avenue, Olson said. The purchase of the land for Bolig from the city is being finalized.
It doesn’t hurt that city leaders are focused on spurring economic activity, Olson said.
“Everyone is on the same board, I guess. Let’s try to make some good things happen here. Let’s keep downtown growing. Let’s keep it expanding. Let’s bring development. Let’s bring residential,” Olson said.
Derrick LaPoint, president and CEO of Downtown Moorhead, Inc., says this is a transformational time for the city.
“There’s a lot of things happening. That’s the beauty of it. There hasn’t really been a whole lot of movement in downtown Moorhead for a number of years. … We’re starting to see some people take a real interest in it,” LaPoint said.
LaPoint said DMI, which acts as the economic development agency for the city, lines up developers with programs to help their projects succeed, and by doing so, make the community more successful.
“It’s really kind of creating that environment where we have a neighborhood in downtown with people and a mix of residential options, whether it’s condos or apartments, workforce housing, low-income housing, restaurants and shops,” LaPoint said. “There’s a lot of work to be done. But we’re excited to kind of get on the right track.”
The focus is now on creating a downtown master plan, LaPoint said. The Stantec Group has hired as a consultant, and the Kilbourne Group, Land Elementas and Folkways are also adding their expertise.
The plan calls for a lot of public engagement, with the initiative to wrap up in June 2020.
“It will give a view of what people think downtown should become, as well as give some strategic goals and objectives for how we get to that goal from the community standpoint,” LaPoint said.
LaPoint says he’d like to see the ideas generated for the old power plant site at Woodlawn Point, as well as what people think could improve Moorhead Center Mall.
That could “give some direction to the ownership group of maybe some potential projects or fits that could work there, too,” LaPoint said.
In the meantime, adding housing has been a clear success.
Last year, the city made a goal of developing 500 living units (apartments, condos, etc.) downtown within five years. LaPoint says that by the end of this summer, about 200 of those units will be on line.
“I think it’s a step in the right direction,” LaPoint said.
Volkers said that in five years, she wants downtown Moorhead to be a place that brings people together, with farmers’ markets and other events.
“I’d like to see our downtown feel like a gathering space. That’s what I would like to see.” Volkers said. “I’d like to see that college presence, the young people, the older people, the seniors, everybody enjoying the gathering spaces.”