FARGO — City leaders have given the go-ahead for the first phase of the new Fargo Civic Plaza, including technical design work and the hiring of a construction manager.

The initial project will involve placing the refurbished $500,000 "Sodbuster" sculpture by the late famed artist Luis Jimenez just north of the downtown public library, with other amenities that will reflect what the entire 300,000-square-foot plaza might some day look like.

Scott Bishop, whose Massachusetts firm has been working on the project for more than a year, was given a $272,000 contract to proceed with final drawings for the sculpture area that will measure about 25,000 square feet or about 1/12 of the plaza.

His $1 million to $1.5 million plan calls for two viewing platforms of the sculpture, a native plant garden, a library cafe terrace, a library events area, a prairie landscape, lawn space, and a temporary tree nursery and art installation.

At the City Commission meeting on Monday, June 17, Bishop said many facets of the first phase could be incorporated into the final design. Most people responding to a survey wanted a mixture of hardscape and softscape on the plaza. That's a mixture of perhaps brick, but also green space and water fountains. The cost for the entire plaza could run into the millions, he said, depending on the materials used.

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There are two major question marks, however. Some of the work may not be able to start until a proposed Performing Arts Center is underway after the Civic Center is demolished. The other question, raised by Commissioner Tony Gehrig, is a possible private development south of City Hall in what is now a city parking lot.

Bishop said he has had some discussions with private developers about that corner of the proposed Civic Plaza.

Commissioner Dave Piepkorn added that he would like to see the plans for the plaza be flexible so it could perhaps be done in phases. Bishop said he understood the economics of such a project and that it most certainly could be done that way.

Other phases of the project Bishop previously proposed would actually start the plaza at Broadway in the heart of downtown next to another community plaza to be built as part of the Block 9 development. It would then go down Second Avenue North to the City Hall area and include a walking and biking bridge over the rebuilt street and floodwall constructed by City Hall and the Red River. That would give access to the river area where biking paths and possibly another bridge could be built over the river to connect with sister-city Moorhead.

The "Sodbuster" sculpture, which used to sit at Main Avenue and Broadway, was refurbished and is more weather resistant through a $143,000 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. As part of the grant, it was required that it be displayed again. After a one-year delay, City Planning Director Nicole Crutchfield said she hopes the first phase of the plaza and the placing of the sculpture can be done by fall.

"Sodbuster," which shows a determined farmer and a pair of oxen plowing a field, was Jimenez's first public outdoor sculpture.

It's expected a construction manager will be hired within 30 days to oversee the project.