FARGO — The City of Fargo is planning to sell its old public health building at 401 Third Ave. N. as development moves ahead slowly but surely near the riverside area of downtown.
Strategic Planner Jim Gilmour said he would like to see a "high quality development" at the site whether the building is renovated or torn down with a new structure put in place.
The almost 60-year-old, two-story building, which also includes a 40-vehicle parking lot behind the structure, has been empty for about a year after the police department detective unit moved from the second floor to the new police headquarters on 25th Street and after other city employees moved from the first floor to the new City Hall.
The City Commission voted 4-0 last week to seek proposals and sell the building. City Commissioner Dave Piepkorn recused himself from the vote because he said he was potentially in an investment development group that may submit a plan or bid on the building.
Gilmour said there were at least two development companies interested in the property, which also had an addition built on in 1994. Proposals for the site are due in 60 days.
The sale and its future development would be another piece in the puzzle of what is being called the Riverfront Renewal Plan, which will be partially funded by a Tax Increment Financing district that has been created for the east side of downtown.
Gilmour said it might take up to 10 years to really see most of the work completed in the area.
He said it takes time for developers to plan projects, find investors, obtain financing and build projects. Some area land suitable for development is either not for sale or listed at prices above what is feasible for a development project, he said.
Gilmour added that the real estate market can limit the pace and type of development and city infrastructure is needed in some locations before some projects may start, including the reconstruction of NP Avenue.
Many development options will be available or are being planned in the coming few years, however, besides what happens at the old public health building site.
Two other properties closer to the Red River will be for sale within a few months, pending authorization from the City Commission. One is the former Fargo School District warehouse building along Second Street North and the other is the site of the former Park East Apartments that was cleared and is along Main Avenue and Second Street South near the Veterans Memorial Bridge.
Proceeds from the sale of both of those properties will have to be given to the Fargo-Moorhead Diversion Authority, which had to acquire the property for flood protection work, according to Gilmour.
Two other major pieces of the riverfront puzzle have been studied and will be available in the coming few years. They are the old Mid America Steel site where most of the 10 deteriorating buildings were demolished this summer, while the 50-year-old, 22-story Laschkowitz High-Rise that sits on two acres next to the river is expected to be demolished next year.
As for the Mid America site, a consulting firm hired by the city found after public meetings, emails and consultations with various organizations that the top of the wish list is creating a public entertainment facility on the four-acre northwest side, the largest segment of the property available for development. Residents suggested ideas that included a children's museum, science center or performing arts center, or adding another attraction to the downtown.
The second option favored by residents was a mixed-use building with businesses on the first floor and housing units on the upper floors. Other parcels in the area may have to be used as a park or for more minor developments.
The site may not be developed further until an environmental cleanup is completed as well as a flood levee or wall. The city is planning to use about $500,000 of its $12 million in American Rescue Plan COVID relief funding on the eligible cleanup project.
As for the high-rise site, Fargo Housing & Redevelopment Authority Director Jill Elliott said they are hoping to demolish the 247-unit high-rise and possibly rebuild there with a 110-unit affordable housing structure.
That would be another new structure along the riverfront, with Elliott noting that it will offer some "beautiful views of the river."
Nearby are projects that are already completed or under way.
EPIC Companies has completed a residential and commercial structure called Gateway North at 310 Main Avenue that is home to the popular and relocated Fryin Pan restaurant in 13,000 square feet of commercial and retail space on the first floor with housing on the top floors offering 52 studio and one- and two-bedroom apartments.
Construction is underway on The Arch, the second phase of EPIC’s efforts at the former Gateway Center strip mall. The seven-story building will have about 60 condominiums and 20,000 square feet of commercial space. It is expected to be finished in late 2022 or early 2023.
Also in the plans is an expanded city plaza in front of the City Library and City Hall and a potential Performing Arts Center.
The City Plaza will begin to develop more as plans are in the works and funding has been obtained for a pedestrian and bicycle bridge crossing over Second Street and the flood wall just south of City Hall. It will offer residents more access to the riverfront and a possible connection to the Hjemkomst Center on the Moorhead side of the river.
The City has received a $2.4 million in federal transportation funds, with a local match required of at least $600,000, for the bridge. Plans developed earlier by a consultant have called for an elaborate structure with views of the riverfront.
The city is accepting proposals until Sept. 29, with a final selection in October, for consultants or a multidisciplinary team to do conceptual designs and the environmental study for the bridge expected to be built in 2023.
The project's aim is to improve and provide more safety for the pedestrian and bicycling network in the center of town and to provide more opportunities for use of the river corridor as well as serving as one of the focal points for the newly developing city plaza.
The Performing Arts Center concept continues to be studied, with the possibility it could be built on the site of the Fargo Civic Arena. Gilmour said the city is in the process of developing a fundraising plan with private donations being key to moving forward.