MOORHEAD — In spite of the COVID-19 pandemic, Moorhead added $24.5 million in commercial and institutional building value in 2020.

That’s according to the city’s 2020 Annual Development Report, which city Community Development Directory Kristie Leshovski presented Monday, Jan. 25, to the Moorhead City Council.

The investment more than doubles 2019’s figure and resulted in the construction of 13 new commercial and institutional buildings.

In an interview with The Forum, Leshovsky cited two factors behind the doubling in commercial and institutional development: previously-planned projects like the Moorhead Public Schools Operations Center and the career academy as well Moorhead’s increasing status as a city ripe for development.

“In some respects, there were some that were just planned, but I think that other people are really seeing that Moorhead has a lot of potential for business growth of existing businesses and new businesses,” Leshovsky explained. “I’m very hopeful that we see a continuation of that trend.”

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With the pandemic still ongoing, however, it’s anyone’s guess how 2021 will ultimately turn out, Leshovsky noted. “I’m not sure anyone can truly predict what will happen in 2021 and beyond,” she said, adding that many residents are eager to patronize businesses after a year of COVID-19 and a long winter.

Still, some other “market factors,” such as rising costs of certain building supplies, will come into play. “Some of those unknowns may potentially impact development, but we’re hoping to do everything that we can to keep moving forward,” Leshovsky said.

Burgeoning businesses

In total, the city issued 130 commercial building permits in 2020, the report found. In addition to the $24.5 million investment in new buildings, greater than $32 million was invested in commercial remodeling, nearly $6 million more than was spent in 2019.

Several high-value commercial and industrial projects were started or completed in 2020:

Four projects highlighted new commercial and industrial work downtown as well:

  • EPIC Companies’ mixed-use, 33-unit Vanné building is expected to open in 2021 at 1530 1st Ave. N. A tax break for the building was approved in February of 2020, when initial costs were estimated at $9 million.

  • Located at 1205 Main Ave., a building permit for 12th and Main was issued in late December 2020. Costs were listed at $3.05 million. The four story, 33-unit building will feature a first floor parking garage and three upper floors of living space.

  • Developer Kevin Bartram’s Block 37 Flats, which Leshovsky called a “unique and neighborhood-friendly building,” will bring an additional 28 units to the downtown area. Located at 113 10th St. S., project costs were estimated at $2.9 million. It will be situated next to the 47-unit 9Thirteen Lofts, another Bartram-developed building.

  • Lastly, construction is underway at 904 Center Ave. for the Armory Event Center, which will have a more than 8,500-square-foot lower level with an industrial kitchen as well as a more than 9,500-square-foot main level. Costs were estimated at $2.9 million, according to a building permit issued in late May.

Vanné, 12th and Main and Block 37 Flats all fell within the Moorhead Renaissance Zone and received varying property tax exemptions.

EPIC Companies’ mixed-use, 33-unit Vanné building is seen on Saturday, Feb. 27, at 1530 1st Ave. N. in Moorhead.
Alyssa Goelzer / The Forum
EPIC Companies’ mixed-use, 33-unit Vanné building is seen on Saturday, Feb. 27, at 1530 1st Ave. N. in Moorhead. Alyssa Goelzer / The Forum

Some downtown businesses also received forgivable loans as part of the city’s Storefront Rehabilitation Program. The program is intended to encourage businesses within the Renaissance Zone to improve their storefront’s façade. Loan recipients included Sol Ave. Kitchen and Junkyard Brewing Company at 1408 and 1416 1st Ave. N. as well as YHR Partners Architects at 420 Main Ave.

Passing the halfway mark

Highlighted by 12th and Main and the Block 37 Flats, the city also inched closer to meeting its “500 in 5” goal, a target set in 2018 to bring 500 housing units to the city center within five years.

The goal is a major priority for the city as it hopes to bolster the up-and-coming downtown business environment. “One of the reasons for that goal is the more people you can get in an area, the more success that we have for the businesses,” Leshovsky said. “In downtown especially, we really saw that as an important aspect of our continued attraction for downtown redevelopment.”

Three years in, 256 units have been completed or are under construction, the report said. Leshovsky felt bullish on the city’s odds of meeting the goal, calling it a “definite possibility.” “If nothing else, I think we will get pretty close to it if we don’t reach it,” she continued. “I think we will see some success in this regard.”

Main Ave. near the Dairy Queen is seen on Saturday, Feb. 27, in Moorhead.
Alyssa Goelzer / The Forum
Main Ave. near the Dairy Queen is seen on Saturday, Feb. 27, in Moorhead. Alyssa Goelzer / The Forum

Migrating to Moorhead

Beyond 2021, Leshovsky is confident Moorhead will keep its momentum.

Moorhead residents, she noted, are loyal to businesses within the city. “From a business standpoint, people in Moorhead are very interested in doing as much business as we can in our city,” she said. “In that respect, our businesses appreciate that because we are very proud of our local businesses.”

In surveying new homebuyers, Leshovsky added that Moorhead’s neighborhoods, parks, trail systems and schools are all highly-rated, which she believed will help the city continue to attract new faces. That, and large-scale projects such as the F-M Area Diversion Project will keep residents coming.

On the whole, the entire Fargo-Moorhead area has emerged as an attractive option for development, Leshovsky said. “We have what appears to be a very strong economy right now as well, even with things that are happening with the pandemic,” she commented.

For Moorhead, the task at hand is to turn that attraction to the area into further economic growth. “I think there are a lot of positives and that shows when we see businesses wanting to invest here and people wanting to move here,” Leshovsky said. “It’s some really positive momentum.”