FARGO — A study led by a consulting firm has found that most people favor using the soon-to-be leveled Mid America Steel property along the Red River as a public entertainment site.

Consultant Scott Harmstead called the parcel of land the "birthplace of Fargo," showing an old photo of the residential shacks that stood on the site in the late 1800s.

Harmstead told the Fargo City Commission this week the top option is creating a public entertainment facility on the four-acre northwest side, the largest segment of the property. That was determined by collecting input from residents at two open houses and through emails. He also met with 12 organizations such as the Downtown Community Partnership and River Keepers to gain input.

Residents suggested such ideas as a children's museum, science center or performing arts center, he said. "They were seeing it as a site to add another attraction to downtown," he added.

The second option favored by residents was a mixed-use building with businesses on the first floor and housing units on the upper floors.

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Demolition continues on the Mid-America site in downtown Fargo on Wednesday, July 28, 2021. David Samson / The Forum
Demolition continues on the Mid-America site in downtown Fargo on Wednesday, July 28, 2021. David Samson / The Forum

Harmstead said the site could offer "spectacular views" of the river.

In his study, he divided the property into four segments. The other sites aren't as favorable for developing as the northwest side along NP Avenue and Second Street North.

Complicating projects on other sites are the BNSF Railway bridge running through the property and the need for either an earthen levee or floodwall. It's the final area in downtown that does not have flood protection, and city officials haven't decided what type of protection will be used there.

In a parcel of about 1.5 acres closer to the river and on the river side of the flood protection, residents mostly supported a public park, amphitheater, farmer's market site or botanical garden, Harmstead said.

The other two parcels on the south side of the railroad are about 3 acres, but Harmstead said it would likely be difficult to develop those areas. The best suggestions for those parcels, he said, were to use them as a parking lot, perhaps with a smaller public park area. The sites are along busy Main Avenue and near the Veterans Memorial Bridge, making them difficult to access.

The site also needs environmental cleanup. While the property isn't expected to have major problems, the fire department's Hazardous Material Response Team was called to one of the buildings during demolition last week to take care of two 5-gallon barrels of cyanide.

Demolition continues on the Mid-America site in downtown Fargo on Wednesday, July 28, 2021. David Samson / The Forum
Demolition continues on the Mid-America site in downtown Fargo on Wednesday, July 28, 2021. David Samson / The Forum

Fire Chief Steve Dirksen said they would properly dispose of the dangerous chemical that they believe was used as rat poison.

Mayor Tim Mahoney in a budget proposal this week said they are planning to use about $500,000 from the city's $22 million American Rescue Plan pandemic relief fund for the cleanup.

Demolition of the 10 buildings on the site started about three weeks ago with the removal of asbestos in the old steel manufacturing plant, which has since relocated to an industrial park in northwest Fargo.

The demolition was expedited this summer after at least two arson fires were reported at the site, which has also long been known as a place for squatters to stay. Juveniles and one adult were responsible for the fires, police said.

Assistant Planning Director Mark Williams said the $307,000 demolition by a Minnesota company resulting in the leveling of the site is expected to be completed in about a month to five weeks. One large steel building has been sold and will be removed separately.

Williams said some of the metal at the site is being recycled, and other debris will be hauled to the landfill.

This huge building on the northwest side of the former Mid America Steel site ahs been sold and will be removed from the property as part of the leveling of the site along the Red River for future development.   Barry Amundson / The Forum
This huge building on the northwest side of the former Mid America Steel site ahs been sold and will be removed from the property as part of the leveling of the site along the Red River for future development. Barry Amundson / The Forum