Fargo City Commission advances proposal to relocate Chamber across the river
At the Fargo City Commission meeting Monday, Nov. 1 the Chamber laid out a preliminary vision for a move into an up to 15,000-square-foot office on the same property as the Fargo-Moorhead Convention and Visitors Bureau. The City Commission voted 4-1 to direct city employees to look into drafting a lease agreement for the use of the land.
FARGO — The Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber of Commerce is mulling the possibility of moving out of the Hjemkomst Center and relocating across the Red River.
At the Fargo City Commission meeting Monday, Nov. 1 the Chamber laid out a preliminary vision for a move into an up to 15,000-square-foot office on the same property as the Fargo-Moorhead Convention and Visitors Bureau . The City Commission voted 4-1 to direct city employees to look into drafting a lease agreement for the use of the land.
"The Chamber is thankful for the strong partnership we have with the city of Fargo and looks forward to many future collaborations," a letter from Chamber CEO Shannon Full to Mayor Tim Mahoney included in the meeting's agenda packet read. "One such opportunity has surfaced in the Chamber’s search for office space."
The Chamber has been housed in its current location at the Hjemkomst Center since 1998, Full said. Citing a map listing 1,897 businesses as members, the Chamber said it needs need of a larger, standalone office building outside of the Hjemkomst Center. "Although the space has served us well, our team is now growing and we are in need of a larger office space," Full's letter continued.
The Chamber listed six priorities for its new office building: vision, financial, location, size, timing and visibility. Of the 21 responses to the Chamber's request for proposals, "none of them reflected the creative nature or the alignment to the Chamber priorities as well as this opportunity to co-locate on the same property as the Fargo-Moorhead Convention and Visitor's Bureau."
Full told The Forum that the Chamber has been looking into the process of moving out of the Hjemkomst Center since March and sent out a formal request for proposals in June.
A key determining factor in choosing the location was that most of the Chamber's membership growth is coming in the west and south areas of the city.
Still, Full noted that the Chamber first attempted to grow in Moorhead. " When we started the conversations back in March, the first conversations were with the city of Moorhead and this location," she remarked. "Our intent was to expand here at the Hjemkomst Center."
However, the Hjemkomst Center's original bonding for funding prevented the Chamber from expanding beyond their current space. The space limitations at the Hjemkomst have led to Chamber employees to either share offices or have to work from home, Full told the City Commission.
Locations in Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo all sent in proposals.
Full said that despite the possibility of a move out of Moorhead, the Chamber would still be committed to the eastern side of the river. " We have really strong relationships with our cities and I’ve been very forthright that the mission of the Chamber is to be a regional catalyst for growth and prosperity," she commented. "No matter where we’re physically located, our commitment will stay strong to the entire region to support anything that we can."
In addition to the office space, the Chamber is planning a "Business Resource Hub," which would offer "a physical space for business growth and collaboration," an attached background document stated.
The new office and Business Resource Hub would be closer and more accessible to members and would feature "enough space to accommodate future growth."
The hub, Full commented, will provide a more central location from which the Chamber can offer services to its members. The Chamber is also exploring the possibility of housing other economic development organizations in the facility. " At the end of the day, we want to provide an opportunity and physical location for businesses to come and get the services they need so they can continue to get growth and prosperity," she said.
Construction would "ideally" begin in the spring of 2022 and expect to be completed in one year, the background document read.
While nothing is yet set in stone, a letter from Convention and Visitors Bureau CEO Charley Johnson to the Chamber's Board of Directors expressed optimism regarding the idea. "While the talks are preliminary, we all agreed that co-location of the Chamber on the Convention and Visitors Bureau grounds was worth continued discussion," Johnson's letter stated.
Full reported that the Convention and Visitors Bureau was "very excited" by the possibility. “We have great support from the Convention and Visitors Bureau," she said. "We have a full letter of support that’s been submitted to the city commission as a portion of our presentation tonight.”
While the land is currently owned by the city of Fargo, the Chamber noted its preference is to buy and build rather than lease a building on the property. The total investment is said to include "up to $1.5 million in reserves, $500,000 mortgage and in-kind services and materials."
A conceptual site plan included in the packet from Design Resources Group depicted the building at the northwest corner of the lot.
'This just amounts to an incentive'
Commissioners Dave Piepkorn, Arlette Preston and John Strand as well as Mahoney voted to advance the proposal.
Commissioner Tony Gehrig cast the lone dissenting vote on the proposal.
Gehrig asked Chamber CEO Shannon Full to publicly state the lease terms she was seeking from the city. Full noted that the hoped-for 50- to 99-year lease at a cost of $1 per year would be a “consideration from the city.” However, “it does allow us to put that $2 million new taxable building on the city property,” she continued.
Gehrig challenged the idea that the city should proceed with the proposal. “This just amounts to an incentive. They’re not paying rent for all intents and purposes,” he said. “To build this, they would be getting a pretty large incentive.”
Gehrig, who has a staunch record of opposing incentives for businesses , questioned whether or not the city has made similar accommodations for a nonprofit in the past. “It’s a new precedent we’d be setting and I think it’s a bad one, especially involving a large incentive attached to it,” Gehrig remarked. “I’m glad you're expanding. I’m glad you're busy enough to need a new space, but this is not the role of the local government to support and it’s not the role of the city’s taxpayers to support."
Mahoney pointed out that the city has a similar arrangement with the Convention and Visitors Bureau. Johnson explained that the organization rents their building from the city for $125,000 per year. In turn, the city provides a $125,000 in-kind gift.
Responding to a question from Preston, Full clarified that the Chamber would own the building and the city would own the land. The building would be subject to property tax and would therefore be beneficial to the city, Full argued.
Strand joked that he was hoping the Chamber would consider moving into the Fargo Civic Center. The Civic Center is currently the subject of a study to evaluate the feasibility of constructing a performing arts center on the site .
Year of changes for Hjemkomst
The Chamber's possible move out of the Hjemkomst Center is just one of several changes which have taken place at the facility since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Moorhead City Council moved its meetings from City Hall to the Hjemkomst because the chambers were larger and allowed for better social distancing at a time when the virus was increasing its presence in the metro area.
The Fargo-Moorhead Community Theatre also moved into the Hjemkomst's Heritage Hall after Moorhead Mayor Shelly Carlson extended an invitation to the theatre. The theatre has been without a permanent home since its location at Fargo's Island Park was deemed unsafe.
The moves haven't been without community pushback , however.
According to the Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County, a recent major exhibit had to be toned down by 1,000-square-feet because of the theatre's encroachment. Other Moorhead residents have also questioned Carlson's decision to privately invite the theatre, while also fearing more of the Hjemkomst Center's space will be lost to city offices.