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Downtown Moorhead Development to transform Center Mall area, revitalize city center over next 5 years

The development plan has gotten buy-in from most of the area's biggest developers and demolition and construction could start in fall 2023 if all goes well, officials with the city and Fargo-based development firm Roers say.

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A rendering from JLG Architects shows plans for the future of the Moorhead Center Mall. The plan, which encompasses about nine city blocks, was made made public Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022.
Contributed / JLG Architects
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MOORHEAD — Redevelopment plans for the 16-acre site mostly occupied by the Moorhead Center Mall and parking lots call for turning it into nine city blocks of apartments, townhomes and condos, shops, restaurants and parking.

The Downtown Moorhead Development was announced Thursday, Aug. 11, at the Hjemkomst center by development partners Roers, JLG Architects, Stantec, Downtown Moorhead Inc. and the city of Moorhead.

As envisioned, the development plan created by Roers would revitalize the downtown area by creating more than 1,200 living spaces, over 100 retail and dining spots and 2,000 parking spaces over the next five years.

Demolition and construction on the east side of the property — which is mostly parking lot — and west side of the mall — the old Herberger's store and attached parking ramp — could start as soon as fall 2023, said Jim Roers, president of Fargo-based development firm Roers.

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Downtown Moorhead Inc. CEO Derrick LaPoint talks about the yearslong process that went into the eventual creation of a development plan for Moorhead's Center Mall, during the announcement of the plan Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022.
Chris Flynn / The Forum

Roers said initial talks with the area's biggest developers have gotten a positive response, with some already pointing to areas they are interested in developing.

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The plan would revitalize downtown, and the investment could increase the property value of the site from $20 million into $200-250 million when completed, City Manager Dan Mahli said.

"This is a super exciting time for Moorhead," Mahli said. "I think a lot of people are expecting and wanting what we're talking about here. Moorhead is just very strong right now and ready."

Phase I of the project would involve demolition and construction on the east side of the mall. Phase II would add new buildings to the south side of the mall. For now, the central part of the mall will stay, and tenants can do business there until later phases in the development of the property, Roers said.

Center Mall tenants were told of the vision for the property earlier this week, Roers spokeswoman Heidi Knutson said.

Roers now owns nearly 90% of the mall, which was created as a condominium enterprise, with businesses owning their own spaces. The city owns the City Hall building, 500 Center Ave., which will remain in the development as planned. The city also owns the halls, bathrooms, parking lots and parking ramp of the mall.

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Roers development company CEO Jim Roers and Moorhead Mayor Shelly Carlson announce plans for redeveloping the Moorhead Center Mall at the Hjemkomst Center on Aug. 11, 2022.
Chris Flynn / The Forum

"This is our time to be bold," Mayor Shelly Carlson said. "This project has been in the works quite a while."

The Moorhead Center Mall was opened in 1973, she said.

"It's kind of time ... for a huge kind of complete redo and restart. It's really Moorhead's time to really shine," Carlson said.

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Redevelopment could get a tremendous catalyst if voters approve a half-cent sales tax to create a new community center and regional library that could be located on the site, she continued.

"That's really going to jump-start this whole project," Carlson said.

The mall was "pretty cool and innovative" when it first opened, "but its time has come to be turned over to something different and something new," Carlson said.

She said it has not yet been determined if the city offices will remain in the current building over the long term.

Mahli said he believes the development will be an opportunity "to celebrate the river."

"Talking about building a future for our future," Mahli said. "We're creating a neighborhood."

"I don't think this is on anybody's radar," Carlson said.

People may have thought the development would simply be a revamping of the mall. Not so, she said.

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"The community is just really, really hungry for it," Carlson said. "I think it's going to be extremely welcomed."

Carlson said the city wants the businesses in the mall to stay, either in the redevelopment or elsewhere in the city.

"It's an exciting day, I can tell you that. It's been a long time coming," said Derrick LaPoint, president and CEO of Downtown Moorhead Inc.

LaPoint said planning started with conversations in 2018 and continued with the creation of the city's master plan in December 2020. Many public meetings were held to get input on downtown's needs, he said.

"We're really building on foundation work by the public," LaPoint said.

Jim Roers said the challenge of the project was the fractional ownership of the mall.

"We've been able to conquer that. Currently, we own just short of 90% all of the real estate that encompasses this area, which literally is a game-changer, because now there is one voice" working with the city "to execute this entire plan," Roers said.

Developers can now see the vision for the area, he said.

It is hoped the project will create more than 1,200 living units downtown, more than 155,000 square feet of retail area, more than 160,000 square feet of other commercial area, and 40,000 to 50,000 square feet of outdoor community space, Roers said.

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Rob Remark, a principal at JLG Architects, said the buildings needed to be three to six stories tall to create enough residential and business density to make the project financially viable.

In keeping with that aim for density, walkability and convenience, some of the parking structures are likely to be wrapped by living and retail spaces, much like the Roberts Commons development in downtown Fargo. That will allow people heading to the area to "park once" and go about their business, he said.

An “amazing, unique” part of the site will be the “incredible views” of the river from three sides, Remark said.

Matthew Dunham, a brand design specialist for JLG, said it is important that the development not only honor the city's German, Norwegian, Scandianvian heritage, but to also create "a global connection" for Moorhead's future "where people come together."

It was also important to create a place different from downtown Fargo, Dunham said. "We didn’t want to create something that’s a mimic of our neighbor,” he said.

Remark said Center Avenue offers opportunities for walk-up retail, while other areas of the development might appeal to businesses for office space.

“We know that when a downtown is thriving, the rest of the community thrives as well. It is the heartbeat,” Remark said.

LaPoint said the plan should also be a good complement to the work that has been done to rework downtown Fargo in recent years.

“We feel that it’s a great fit to the overall concept of these two cities, one downtown,” he said.

Roers said he talked to four of the major developers working in the Fargo-Moorhead area, "and three have expressed a serious interest in being involved."

"What would normally take five to 10 years can happen in one to five years" with that sort of interest, he said.

Roers said businesses in the center of the mall may well be able to stay in place for two or three years before development reaches the point where they must move. Though that could change if plans for construction of a community center/library are accelerated.

Opportunity Zone credits and and tax increment financing will be important to help write down infrastructure and development costs, Roers said.

One of the metro area's most active developers is architect and developer Kevin Bartram. Bartram and Sterling Companies acquired United Sugars on the east side of the development area in 2021 and has plans for that property.

The value of the redeveloped property will grow significantly, Mahli said, and that doesn't include the amount of money that will be invested in the redevelopment.

“I think it’s the dandiest piece of property in the metro,” he said.

“I think the next 10 years are going to … set the stage for the next 50 years" of growth in Moorhead, he said.

For more information on the project and to keep up to date on the status of development, go to moretomoorhead.com .

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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