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FMCT plans move to downtown Fargo as part of $66 million NP Avenue project

The 76-year-old theatre company has joined with project partners Kilbourne Group, Global Development and the city in the plan to turn two parking lots into a mixed-use building and a 500-stall parking ramp.

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A $66 million development proposed for surface parking lots on the 600 block of downtown Fargo's Northern Pacific Avenue will now include the Fargo Moorhead Community Theatre, officials confirmed Monday, Oct. 10, 2022. The mixed-use project, seen looking from north to south, will also have apartments and a 500-stall, city-owned parking ramp. FMCT will occupy just under 30,000 square feet of space on the first two floors, marked in aqua in the rendering.
Contributed / Kilbourne Group
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FARGO — The Fargo Moorhead Community Theatre is planning a move to Fargo’s downtown that will set it up for “the next 100 years.”

The 76-year-old theater company has signed on to be part of a $66 million development which will fill two surface parking lots on the 600 block of Northern Pacific Avenue.

The primary drivers of the project, announced earlier this year, are prolific downtown developer Kilbourne Group , the city of Fargo and Global Development.

FMCT’s Executive Director Judy Lewis said the theater company will spend $10.5 million on the theatre shell, fit-up and technology. Another $2 million is being sought to build an endowment to pay ongoing costs.

About 75% of that $12.5 million total has been raised in a quiet fundraising campaign, Lewis said Monday, Oct. 10, during a meeting at Moorhead’s Hjemkomst Center, where the theater company makes its home.

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“(Downtown) needs all of us. It needs the restaurants. It needs the bars. It needs the boutiques. And it needs a driver that is family-focused, and that’s us,” Lewis said. For it to be recognized “that FMCT can provide that is a real big gift for us. It sets us up for the next 100 years.”

The city’s part of the plan, a 500-stall parking ramp, will be discussed in an informational meeting with the City Commission starting at noon Wednesday, Oct. 12, at City Hall.

Jim Gilmour, the city’s director of strategic planning and research, said city staff have a plan to finance up to $20 million for the ramp using parking fees, tax increment financing and revenues from the parking and general funds.

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Global Development partner Randy Thorson, FMCT executive director Judy Lewis and Kilbourne Group spokeswoman Adrienne Olson share a laugh during a meeting at the Hjemkomst Center in Moorhead on Monday, Oct. 10, 2022.
David Samson / The Forum

The theater will be “a real boost for activity downtown,” Gilmour said Monday.

”Anytime you are downtown and the Fargo Theatre has an event” there's a boost in business, Gilmour said.

“It’s an opportunity that doesn’t come back very often to bring back a theater downtown,” he said. “I think it will be a real benefit to downtown.”

Global Development owns about 40% of the parking lot space where the project is planned. The city owns the other 60% of the lots between the Old Broadway and North Dakota State University’s Renaissance Hall.

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The 600 block surface parking lots on NP Avenue will be the site of a large, multi-use development and parking ramp project by the city and Kilbourne Group.
David Samson / The Forum

Randy Thorson, a partner in Global Development, said how the project generates traffic downtown will determine what his company will do with 16 Broadway, a building that years ago was home to Herbst Department Store.

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All of the plans considered for the 45,000 square feet of space in the Herbst building depend on increasing parking, he said.

The project, proposed to him by Kilbourne Group President Mike Allmendinger, fills that need.

“I just feel good working with the Kilbourne Group,” Thorson said. “They get the job done and they do it right. … For me, they’re the right fit to work with this project.”

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Global Development partner Randy Thorson said Monday, Oct. 10, 2022, that the former Herbst Department Store building at 16 Broadway in downtown Fargo will eventually be developed, but his company is waiting to see what the downtown area will need once a large mixed-use building and parking ramp are completed on the 600 block of NP Avenue.
David Samson / The Forum

Thorson said a boutique hotel, a conference center or some combination of the two are being considered for the Herbst building, which in recent years has been used as a staging area for firms building other downtown projects.

“I can tell you this: We will do something, because we’ve been waiting. We’re excited about it,” Thorson said. “I’m so pumped. Let’s just get it going!”

FMCT plans to build a 420-seat theater with a thrust stage and a 45-foot proscenium framing the stage for the audience. There will also be three large classrooms, tripling the available space for teaching, Lewis said.

The theater has drawn good crowds despite being forced from its Island Park building in late 2019, when wooden beams supporting the building failed.

Lewis said the 64 performances in the Hjemkomst Center in the last year have engaged more than 40,000 people. And that is a much smaller theater space, she said.

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The latest plan for the housing and retail/commercial parts of the project include 145 apartment units. The estimated cost is about $36 million, said Adrienne Olson, a spokeswoman for Kilbourne Group.

Olson said the project will increase walkability downtown. Over many decades, downtown Fargo has seen 17 theaters, Olson said. Now there is but one, the Fargo Theatre.

“This is our chance to have a theater downtown again; it used to be a theater district,” Olson said.

“I think theater is a really important part of a diverse downtown that can attract families and people to come and spend their days and their evenings enjoying their city,” Olson said.

A timeline has not yet been released for groundbreaking and completion of the project.

Helmut Schmidt is a reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead's business news team. Readers can reach him by email at hschmidt@forumcomm.com, or by calling (701) 241-5583.
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