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New plan emerges for Beebe house, historic downtown neighborhood

The NDSU professor who owns the historic home plans to sell his estate to a local affordable housing organization.

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This is a rendering and part of the plans for renovating and adding to the 1906 structure that was the office of one of the city's most well-known early architects in the city's earliest days. New plans have been made to turn the historic building into a low-income single-family home with the help of the Community Land Trust and the Kilbourne Company.
Contributed / Milton Yergens
We are part of The Trust Project.

FARGO — The continuing saga over plans for the historic office of one of Fargo's early, well-known architects has taken another turn.

North Dakota State University Architectural Assistant Professor Ron Ramsay, who owns the almost 120-year-old neoclassical structure, has partnered with the Cass Clay Community Land Trust and Kilbourne Group in an effort to renovate the building and preserve the surrounding neighborhood.

Ramsay, who is in his 51st year of teaching at NDSU, and his husband, Peter, have agreed to sell their estate to the land trust. Their estate includes three other homes they own in what may be the last remaining historic neighborhood for families in the immediate downtown area.

The dream is to one day have affordable housing covering about half of a block that could be offered to four low-income families.

Known as the Milton Earle Beebe Historic District, the neighborhood is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

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The historic Milton Beebe house located at 717 3rd Ave. N. David Samson / The Forum

The office structure fell into disrepair and was slated for demolition under the city's dilapidated building ordinance because of its condition.

However, the city granted a reprieve and, working with Kilbourne's Heather McCord, Ramsay has been trying to find a way to preserve the historic home and neighborhood on the National Register of Historic Places.

They plan to build an addition onto Beebe's former office to make it into a two-bedroom home. The project is estimated to cost about $450,000 because they will need to move the building and construct a new foundation.

The fundraising effort is just getting underway through the land trust.

Once the estate is transferred to the land trust, the other three homes will be able to accommodate larger families. One has four bedrooms and the other two could offer up to five bedrooms.

"They could really be homes for multi-generational families," said Trenton Gerads, executive director of the nonprofit land trust that aims to provide affordable homeownership in perpetuity as the trust owns the land and provides guidance to the family who buys the home.

What's even more exciting, he said, is that it would preserve one of the city's oldest neighborhoods, as Beebe designed or remodeled the homes in the block.

Ramsay said his home is the oldest of the four as it is believed to have been built in 1881 by another family. The "small house," Beebe's former office, was likely built in 1906. Ramsay once lived in the structure.

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"We are hoping for a living, breathing, affordable neighborhood for families downtown," Gerads said. "If it wasn't for this, the historic neighborhood would be done, lost."

Ramsay said he dreams of the day he'll see children playing in a courtyard they are planning to create in the midst of the homes.

He has been joking that he wants to be the first to get hit in the head with a Frisbee thrown by one of the kids in the affordable homes.

McCord, who has been working on the effort with Ramsay for a few years, added that construction of Beyond Shelter's Milton Earle apartment building for low-income senior citizens is slated to start next door this year.

That will provide even more affordable housing for neighborhood in the midst of the city's expanding downtown area, McCord said.

As the land trust enters its third year this spring, Gerads said, it will have six owner-occupied homes.

They also have four other lots across the metro they are planning to develop this year.

The land trust is also working with partners to acquire 17 townhomes and 30 single-family homes in the metro area this year that could eventually boost affordable housing opportunities.

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Funding, of course, is the big question. They are working with city governments and numerous partners on the projects. Habitat for Humanity, for example, is helping build a home for a family on one of their lots this summer.

The land trust is also looking to raise an additional $250,000 for a permanent, long-term maintenance fund for the historic Beebe home.

Beebe, who picked up his successful business in New York and moved it to Fargo in what Ramsay believes was about 1898, would likely be proud to see his buildings standing and full of families.

Beebe designed many other buildings across the state and region including Old Main on the Concordia College campus, the courthouse in Park Rapids and the Solberg Stewart Miller Law Office with its distinctive columns on Fifth Avenue South, as well as many hotels and homes, according to Ramsay.

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