Spectacular views, amenities will be part of new downtown developments next year
Kilbourne's three major structures to add about 360 apartments, more business space to city center
FARGO — As the 15th year approaches to one of the key starting points of the major redevelopment of downtown Fargo, it'll be marked with another 360 apartments becoming available in 2022 by the organization that has spurred a majority of the work.
Kilbourne Group, founded and initially financed by Gov. Doug Burgum, plans to open up two new mixed-use buildings in the heart of downtown, and a third mostly residential structure providing an improved appearance as motorists enter the southwest edge of the city's core along 10th Street.
The three projects, the only residential structures expected to open next year downtown, are estimated to bring the number of downtown residents who can use the walkable neighborhoods and attractions to about 4,000.
The first of the new structures is expected to open on April 1. That $22 million, four-story multiuse building called The Mercantile has 100 apartments and five-to-seven business spaces wrapped in an L-shape around the city's newest parking ramp with 367 stalls.
Many of the top-level apartments offer "spectacular views" of downtown and stretching for miles into the countryside, according to Kilbourne President Mike Allmendinger.
The largest commercial space on The Mercantile's first level is being geared towards a new restaurant, but there will be up to six other business offerings. The police are planning to open a substation in one of the spots, along with the city's private parking contractor.
The project is being complemented by another private investment from Tom and Kari Smith of the next door Great Northern Bicycle Shop. The couple are having nine for-sale condominiums constructed on the northside of The Mercantile that will also open in the spring or early summer.
Three of the condos have already been sold, according to Kari Smith.
Work on The Mercantile is the most advanced of the three structures, as the Kilbourne construction arm and its subcontractors of about 50 employees are already finishing off apartments, which feature floor-to-ceiling windows that add to the views and offer plenty of natural light. Traditional kitchen areas in the apartments are a nod to the historic center of town.
The apartments will range from studios to three-bedroom units.
Keith Leier, vice president of development and construction for Kilbourne, said the exterior of The Mercantile is designed with lower-level brick to make the structure blend in with the other nearby historic buildings.
A large southern-facing outdoor patio on the second level of The Mercantile will offer grilling, fire pits and even a television screen. Other amenities include balconies on a few of the apartments, dog and cat wash rooms and a dog run, bicycle storage, a club room and an outdoor courtyard.
Pet amenities are getting to be a big thing, according to Kilbourne's Adrienne Olson, vice president for communications. She said about 70% of residents in their buildings have pets and "we want to make sure their pets love living downtown, too."
The other Kilbourne mixed-use building in the heart of the city just off Broadway on Second Avenue is the $20 million Kesler, which features 109 apartments and space for up to seven new businesses in the block-long structure.
The six-level building, which is named for the original Kesler Block that was razed in 1976, is slated to open next summer.
One of the main features of the Kesler are the business fronts to the alley, which will be a continuation of the popular Roberts Alley to the north. There are also business fronts on the southside of the structure along First Avenue.
One amenity they are proud of is an elevated outdoor patio just off a large club room with views of Broadway Square.
The Kesler also features brick on the lower levels in attempts to blend with nearby buildings. Metal siding on the rest of the exterior helps to keep construction costs lower, according to Leier.
Another main feature are heated parking stalls on part of the main level with an added underground lot offering a total of 69 stalls.
The project was part of a public-private partnership with the city, according to Olson, that transformed 195 surface parking stalls in the heart of the city into 524 new parking spots, 265 new apartments and 11 businesses so far in the company's 35,500 square feet of new commercial space.
"People living in these two buildings near to Broadway are those who want to be in the energy and the heart of the downtown, " Leier said during a tour of the buildings. That energy and convenience come from the numerous restaurants, bars, shops and other businesses, he said.
The final Kilbourne building, also slated to open next summer, is The Landing.
Leier explained the two-fold naming of the four-story, L-shaped building. First, when a person comes north out of the railroad underpass on 10th Street they'll "land into a new attractive entrance into downtown." Secondly, it's also a nod to the historic nature of the area where numerous landings were found at businesses and industries for rail drop offs.
The Landing, which takes up almost a complete city block, will have 154 apartments and is designed to only have a large restaurant/pub taking up the business space along 10th Street with an outdoor patio included.
Other major features of the $30 million structure, being built by BC Contracting of West Fargo for Kilbourne, are about a dozen walk-up townhouses and apartments on the street level, a massive underground two-level heated garage with 217 stalls, a large outdoor parking lot and landscaping surrounding the building.
With a 95% occupancy rate at its current downtown apartments, which closely mirrors the estimated citywide apartment vacancy rate of 4.4%, Allmendinger is confident in the demand for more downtown housing.
One of the interesting facts about the current tenants, according to Olson, is that 80% are from outside of the immediate area.
"We see many residents coming from the coasts," she said, including from Georgia, Massachusetts, New York and California. "They often come to look and see the downtown and say this is a place I want to be."
She said of their last 100 tenants, the residents worked for 58 different employers in town, mostly in health care, agriculture, financial services and technology.
There are also numerous retirees or empty nesters looking to "get away from the shoveling," Olson said.
Olson said they analyze the market daily.
"The market is strong and the outlook is good," said Allmendinger, who started his career with Burgum and Kilbourne in the early 2000s after gradating from NDSU with a degree in landscape architecture.
Jim Gilmour, the city's strategic planner who has worked extensively on downtown's renewal, said Kilbourne has done a "good job pulling together investors on a variety of projects downtown."
"They have all been high-quality buildings and they've been a good partner on the parking garages we were able to build downtown," he said.
Allmendinger and Leier feel good about the demand from start-up to businesses looking to relocate or expand.
Leier said businesses often like to see the project as it further develops to have a better picture of its appearance.
"They can look at drawings, but it's not the same," Leier said.
As for a look at how housing has developed downtown since that first Kilbourne building in 2007, it was followed by its 21-unit Lofts on Roberts in 2008. There was then somewhat of a lull for several years until Kilbourne developed the 97-unit Woodrow Wilson Apartments along University Drive in 2017 and Enclave added 94 units in the 300 Lime building.
It's really boomed since then with other developers also getting into the game. This year's completed projects having involved 92 apartments in The Mosaic built by Enclave and 52 apartments in The Gateway multiuse building along Main Avenue developed by EPIC. Also six high-end condos offered by Kilbourne grace the top of the RDO building in the midst of downtown.
Allmendinger really credits the "way the entire community came together" in the efforts in the past to improve downtown.
In 2010, he said there were under 3,000 residents living downtown and that number will have grown about 25% next year to that 4,000 number with more expected in the coming years.
A downtown plan has indicated there's room for about 12,000 residents to make it even more of a "walkable neighborhood" with more businesses, parking garages, amenities and green spaces, according to Allmendinger.
His vision is for that to continue in the next decade and beyond.
Although they haven't finalized any more projects, he's excited about the former MidAmerica Steel site along the Red River where buildings were torn down this year. The company wouldn't be afraid to start doing projects in downtown Moorhead either, he said, where multiuse and residential projects have been added or are planned.
The company also has submitted a three-option bid for a riverfront piece of property along Second Street and Third Avenue North where they would offer more housing.
Gilmour said work in the next few years is likely to focus on that east side of downtown closer to the river.
Both Gilmour and Allmendinger are hoping for more community support as downtown Fargo's "infill" continues, but Allmendinger also credits the early investors, including Burgum whom he said was "willing to make investments at a risky time."
The city, he added, has been a great partner, too, with the Broadway street improvement project that was a factor into the start of downtown's transformation as well as tax incentive programs such as the Renaissance Zone to assist in project financing.
"It's takes all parts to create a vibrancy for the downtown and I couldn't be more excited about the work we've done and what's ahead," Allmendinger said.