Fargo may demolish fire-destroyed business that attracts gawkers
No work has been done to tear down the burned-out building since Dec. 5 fire.
FARGO — A large business on the west edge of downtown Fargo that burned in a dramatic three-alarm fire Dec. 5 will be torn down by the city if owner and auctioneer Gary Reinhart doesn't have it demolished by June 30.
The many large animal statues in front of the building attract plenty of gawkers, but City Inspections Director Bruce Taralson said the structure at 1418 1st Ave. N. is a dangerous building and a threat to the public.
Taralson said the 1939 building's roof and exterior walls have collapsed and there are many broken windows.
The building's interior and its contents appear to be completely destroyed and the structure is unsecured, he said.
Fargo city commissioners voted 4-1 Monday, May 3, to begin the process to have the building demolished and removed by the end of June.
Commissioner Tony Gehrig voted against proceeding with the demolition. He said the city should give the property owner more time to clear the property.
"We need to be fair with what we are expecting," he said.
The cause of the fire, fought by Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo firefighters, has been ruled undetermined.
Taralson told commissioners that typically when a commercial building becomes dilapidated, the owners work with his department to find solutions.
For the first time in his many years with the department, Taralson said the owner of this building hasn't worked with the city.
Since 2009, Taralson said there have been numerous complaints at the site about junk, abandoned vehicles and unkept property.
Reinhart, who had a permit to at least have part of the structure demolished by May 1, appeared before the commission to make a plea for more time.
He said that since the fire, he has been retrieving many personal items in the structure, including gold coins, artifacts and antiques that he had to dig out of the rubble.
Reinhart said he hired a contractor to help demolish the building but they had other work to get done before they could begin on his property.
"In this time of COVID, you have to wait your turn," Reinhart said.
In asking for more time, Reinhart referenced the attraction of his animal statues surrounding the building, saying people "stop by all the time to take photos and send them all over the world."
Some of his statues and other collections are "to some junk, but to others it's art."
He said if the city wants to tear the building down, "do it."
"I know it's bad because of the fire," he said.
Commissioner Dave Piepkorn said it's "a public safety issue" with people coming and going there.
He added the city should be fair and make sure the abandoned former Mid America Steel property now owned by the city that was the site of two apparent arson attempts in the past few months also be torn down in a reasonable amount of time. Bids for demolition of the site are expected by May 12.
Under the city dangerous building law, Reinhart can file an appeal in district court by June 1 that would prolong the demolition or he can obtain the permit to demolish it himself, but it would have to be finished by June 30.
It wouldn't be the first time Reinhart has had one of his buildings demolished by the city.
In early 2015, a house he owned nearby at 1411 1st Ave. N. attracted attention and complaints from neighbors after it was defaced with a swastika and racist slogans. By July 2015, the city was telling Reinhart to demolish the house, which the city considered a safety hazard due to fire damage. Reinhart then said he sold the house, but the apparent private deal fell through, and the city demolished the home in November 2015.
Also on Monday, city commissioners voted unanimously to declare a residence at 1648 8th Ave. S. a dangerous building.
The abandoned home has extensive damage to a detached garage and multiple broken and boarded up windows. It also has signs of animal infestation and extensive damage to the interior. Junk and multiple abandoned vehicles were also found in the yard and driveway. Complaints have been filed against the property since May 2020. The last known owner was Christopher Mason Brockman, who didn't appear at Monday's meeting.