FARGO — The Fargo VFW Club Post 762 is dreaming big.
Slowly, but surely, the club is undergoing a major renovation with the help of volunteers. Improvements include an expanded bar, a newly renovated lower level events center and the return of its full-service restaurant along Broadway in the site of former Italian restaurant Toscana.
"We're super excited," said Dan Jacobson, a VFW Auxiliary member and semi-retired remodeling contractor. "We have lots of dreams for this club."
Besides the three projects completed or underway, members are hoping for even more in the coming years, including a rooftop patio and lounge, an improved entryway and connection to the popular Roberts Alley behind the building. A planned elevator would provide improved access to the lower level and possibly the rooftop in the future.
Jacobson said he doesn't know when they'll be opening the restaurant, but with the bar closed for several weeks and business still slow due to the coronavirus pandemic, it's been a good time to work on the remodeling.
The VFW is also moving back into its restaurant area, the former location of Toscana. Chef and owner Mirco Morganti rented the space for 14 years until he unexpectedly passed away in April. His family then decided to close the restaurant.
Jacobson said the VFW plans to serve breakfast, lunch and dinner when it moves back into the restaurant area, the huge windows of which he says will give customers a beautiful view of Broadway and the new Block 9 community plaza currently under construction across the street.
Food will be available in the newly expanded bar area, too, which is now connected to the front of the building after walls were removed.
The bar area project, which has greatly expanded seating, will involve moving the stage for live bands and the dance floor, Jacobson said. The club is known as one of the few places downtown where patrons can dance to live music.
New stools have also been purchased for the bar and for the price of $125 a person can have their name put on a marker on the back of the chair. Automatic entry doors for people with disabilities have also been added.
Jacobson said about seven volunteers are working on and off remodeling the new restaurant area and kitchen. He estimates that the "sweat equity" of the volunteers will probably save about $30,000 in costs for the main floor renovation.
On the lower level, it was also a team of volunteers that finished an upgrade project led by Russ Richards, the executive director of the Fargo-based nonprofit Rebuilding Together.
Richards said his team of volunteers, and businesses who donated supplies, wanted to "give back" to area veterans. They saved the club thousands in remodeling costs — probably as high as $40,000 — for the lower-level work, he added.
Usually, Richards' organization focuses on residential property, as they have helped renovate about 260 homes in the past decade — mostly for low-income veterans, elderly and disabled residents.
The nonprofit originally planned to work on a long list of smaller projects for the VFW club, but it expanded into a full-blown face-lift of the events center.
Richards said the work included painting, replacing the ceiling, lighting and flooring, repairing the fire sprinkler system and adding storage space. The ceiling was also raised by one foot.
"We wanted to make it a place people wanted to rent and to be a revenue source for the club," he said. "It was sorely in need of renovation and (needed) to address safety code issues."
The VFW was planning an open house or "shindig" in late March to show off the new center and thank all of the "community partners" who helped in the five-month, off-and-on project, but because of the coronavirus pandemic, Richards said they'll have to do it at another time, perhaps later this year.
In the meantime, Richards also said they hope the club can find a source of funding to upgrade the elevator in the building to provide better access to the lower level and maybe down the road the rooftop lounge.
Jacobson said all of the work will hopefully help the VFW Post gain new members, too, as more people would rather belong to an organization on the upswing rather than on a "sinking ship."