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Fargo Commission delays vote on EPIC Companies project; moves forward on planning for NP Avenue development

The commission on a narrow vote, agreed to have EPIC's project heard by the city's Community Development Committee.

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EPIC Companies' plan to build the mixed-use Unite building at 1 2nd St. S. will have to be heard by Fargo's Community Development Committee after a vote by the City Commission on Monday, Feb. 7, 2022.
Contributed / EPIC Companies
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FARGO — The sale of land for a large downtown construction project by the Red River has been delayed as the City Commission, on a 3-2 vote, agreed to give the proposal by EPIC Companies a hearing before the city’s Community Development Committee.

Meanwhile the commission, on another 3-2 vote, agreed to have staff move ahead with financial planning and drafting a development agreement to turn a parking lot on NP Avenue into housing, a parking ramp and commercial space.

Commissioner John Strand called for the delay on the sale of 1 2nd St. S. to EPIC, and further staff work on the project, until it was heard by the Community Development Committee, which he chairs.

“We need to get the highest, greatest good” for the properties the city has available, Strand said.

“I believe we should give that committee respect for what they’re charged to do,” Strand said. “My contention is we need to at least have a discussion” on affordable and accessible housing.

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The EPIC project, called UNITE, would be the third building in the firm’s vision for the eastern gateway to the city. EPIC has offered to pay $1,188,000 for the land, where it wants to build a $28 million, seven-story building. UNITE would have 30 condominiums, 37 apartments, 15,000 square feet of commercial space and interior parking. Work would begin in the fall of 2022 and be completed in late 2023, the company said.

EPIC is requesting a five-year Renaissance Zone tax break, which must be heard by the Renaissance Zone Authority before it goes to the commission for approval.

Jim Gilmour, the city’s director of strategic planning and research, cautioned the commission that the developers will need to hire architects now to get planning done in time to start work this fall.

Commissioner Arlette Preston said that the issue should have been brought up before requests for proposals for 1 2nd St. S. and two other downtown sites the city wants developed were sent out.

Commissioner Dave Piepkorn also noted that the Community Development Committee has not been asked to weigh in on previous projects.

Nonetheless, Preston and Mayor Tim Mahoney voted with Strand to give the EPIC proposal a hearing before Community Development. Piepkorn and Commissioner Tony Gehrig voted against the hearing.

Other development

Meanwhile, on another close vote, Mahoney, Piepkorn and Preston agreed to have city staff move ahead with creating a renewal plan, development agreement, and financial planning to turn a surface parking on the 600 Block of NP Avenue into a mixed-use complex that would also support redevelopment of the old Herbst Department Store building.

The project would include 500-600 parking spaces, 150-200 apartments and commercial space. It would be a joint venture between the city, which would finance the parking ramp, Global Development, and Kilbourne Group.

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Global Development owns 40% of the surface parking between Old Broadway and North Dakota State University’s Renaissance Hall, while the city owns 60%. Global Development also owns the Herbst building, which it would like to turn into an event center or boutique hotel.

Strand advocated for public bidding on the project. Meanwhile, Gehrig said the city has lost money on all of the parking ramps it has helped build or operate.

Piepkorn was pointed in his defense of building ramps to improve downtown parking and development.

“It’s important to have leaders with vision,” Piepkorn said. “If you want to have a downtown with a bunch of flat parking lots… then just keep up the good work.”

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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