FARGO-Ben Meland was skeptical when his business partner, Austin Morris, brought him along to check out potential office space in the Case Plaza for their real estate development and construction company, Enclave Development, and its subsidiaries.
"I saw an 8-foot-drop ceiling and blue and pink carpet with blue wallpaper," Meland said. "I walked through it and was depressed."
But, after he popped out a few ceiling tiles and pulled back the wallpaper, he saw that what lay beneath were gorgeous 16-foot timber support beams and brick. There was potential, so they set out to design an office that "shows the level of craftsmanship we're capable of," Morris said.
They moved into the new headquarters in November. The public recently got a look at the new space during a ribbon-cutting event.
Taking chances on design
Meland and Morris were introduced by a mutual friend seven years ago. Morris was an investment specialist for a real estate trust, and Meland was a project manager building homes for Nor-Son in Minnesota's lakes area.
In July 2011, they quit those jobs to launch Enclave Development.
Meland said it made sense, considering their combined work experience and industry contacts.
"With his banking relationships and my subcontractor relationships, people were willing to take a risk on this new company," he said.
One of their first projects was a 48-unit apartment complex in Grand Forks. Even though it was zoned appropriately, Morris said the project was met with resistance from nearby homeowners. They eventually made a number of changes to appease the group, such as pushing the building back 30 feet from the side where the homes were located and planting more mature trees to obstruct its view.
Morris said it's important to do everything they can to ensure a project's success because they typically seek an equity investment.
"We walk alongside our partners. If the project is successful, we're all successful," Morris said. "If it wasn't for some reason, we're in the same boat as them, so we work hard to manage it."
Meland said they develop, build and manage 90 to 95 percent of all projects.
Morris said one thing that sets Enclave properties apart is that they take chances on design.
"If you try to design for everyone, you design for no one," Morris said. "If everything is beige, that may appeal to a small audience. If something's a little more exciting, you may detract part of your audience, but you'll also get an audience excited and willing to pay more for it. I think we're willing to take those chances."
One such example is the Retreat at Urban Plains, a large apartment complex currently in phase two of construction near the new Sanford Medical Center in south Fargo.
"We pushed the envelope on design, finish level and the quality of what we were putting into it to attract a higher-end clientele that is willing to pay more for more luxurious finishes," Morris said.
Central air, underground parking, granite countertops, tile backsplash, stainless steel appliances, a natural gas firepit and a WiFi lounge are among the amenities. Eventually, the project will also include a 6,000-square-foot clubhouse with a pool and more.
Enclave Development is also partnering with Kilbourne Group to build a mixed-use apartment complex and retail space at the site of the former Woodrow Wilson School on University Drive in downtown Fargo.
Morris said they hope to be involved with more downtown projects in the future.
"We're going to try to focus on developing the core and doing some unique, eclectic downtown projects," he said. "Mixed-use, multifamily projects. We both love downtown and we love historic buildings."
What: Enclave Development, Lux Communities and Radiant Homes
Where: 1 2nd St. N., Suite 102, Fargo
Contact: (701) 478-4300