FARGO - The long-awaited Block 9 tower project in downtown Fargo kicked-off with a groundbreaking ceremony and party on what is now known as U.S. Bank plaza on Wednesday, Sept. 12.

When completed in fall 2020, the $117 million, 18-story multi-use tower will be the highest building in Fargo at 237 feet, easily besting the nearby Radisson Hotel and Lashkowitz High-Rise buildings and boldly changing the skyline of the city.

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The project by partners R.D. Offutt Co. and Kilbourne Group has been in the works a long time, Kilbourne Group President Mike Allmendinger told the hundreds of people at the event.

Architects began work nine years ago, and R.D. Offutt signed on in 2014, he said.

"That's the day this project became real," Allmendinger said.

The property brings in $14,000 a year in property taxes now, but when finished in two years, it will bring in $1.2 million in revenue annually for the city, said Allmendinger.

"This has been a long project. It has been worth the wait," Allmendinger said.

"For me this is super exciting, and for RDO this is super exciting," said Scott Neal, president RDO's real estate division.

Neal said the international firm has strong roots in the region, but has outgrown its Island Park headquarters. He said the Block 9 tower will be a great replacement.

"It really was an easy decision for us to remain here," Neal said.

"What a grand day. We are so excited about this project," Mayor Tim Mahoney added.

When the city's Renaissance Zone came into being almost 20 years ago, the downtown's property value was about $150 million, Mahoney said. With the projects completed since with the aid of the zone's tax breaks, plus the completion of the Block 9 tower, downtown's value will top more than $700 million.

"That's fantastic!" he said.

"For us, it's like Christmas," Mahoney said of the project.

The speakers kept the event lighthearted. Even the groundbreaking itself was done with humor. A cement area once planted with flowers was filled with sand, and children with construction toys did their groundbreaking throughout the ceremony.

Neither Kilbourne Group founder, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, or RDO founder and Chairman emeritus Ronald D. Offutt were on the program for the event.

The 290,000-square-foot building will be built on the north end of the block on what until now has been a little over an acre of surface parking. It will include a 125-key boutique hotel to be run by Aparium Hotel Group; a restaurant; residential condominiums; commercial office space for more than 300 team members of R.D. Offutt Co. and other tenants; and retail space. There will also be a 379-space parking ramp.

The plaza on the south side of the block will be programmed for use at least 200 days a year by the Fargo Park District. It will include groomed ice in the winter for skating, a band shell for outdoor live performances, and a splash pad to attract children and families in the summer.

Park District Executive Director Joel Vettel said the plaza will be "a jewel" for the city and the project will make "this entire community stronger."

Concrete Jersey barriers already ring the site and some work will start Thursday, Sept. 13, said Bob Eno, a senior vice president for McGough Construction.

Eno said as many as 250 craftsmen will be working at a time. A big plus for downtown residents and businesses: rather than pounding pilings to create a solid foundation, the firm will use a drilling approach to minimize noise and vibration.

Fargo's tallest

When completed, the Block 9 tower will be the tallest building in Fargo at 237 feet. However, it will be just the second-highest building in North Dakota. The North Dakota State Capitol building in Bismarck would remain the tallest at 242 feet.

Here are the current tallest buildings in Fargo, according to Emporis, a real estate data mining firm.

• Radisson Hotel, 18 floors, 207 feet

• Lashkowitz High Rise, 22 floors, 204 feet

• Sanford Medical Center, 11 floors, 200 feet

• (Tie) New Horizons Manor and Bank of the West tower, about 122 feet

• (Tie) Twin Towers, Pavek Hall, Seim Hall, Sevrinson Hall, Thompson Hall, Bethany Towers II, about 110 feet

• Black Building, 9 floors, 108 feet