FARGO — The decision is final.

After a few years of debate on whether to tear down or renovate the downtown Lashkowitz High Rise, Fargo Housing & Redevelopment Authority Director Jill Elliott confirmed the building is coming down.

Although officials have said that they would likely have the structure knocked down, there was still some hesitancy in the past few years.

Thus, the housing authority hired a specialist, the Blue Line Development Co. of Missoula, Montana, to make a final determination and decide how to proceed with the project.

In the meantime, the 22-story home to senior citizens and residents with disabilities for the past 50 years has been emptied out since last summer.

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As of mid-September, only 25 residents remained in the 247-unit landmark towering over the Red River and the southeast part of downtown. They are expected to find alternative housing by the end of the year, said Elliott, paving the way for the demolition of the building that could cost as much as $5 million.

In another move, Elliot said they are drawing up plans for the housing agency to construct a 110-unit four-or five-story building to once again offer affordable housing in that area of downtown.

However, there's no guarantee on the new facility. Elliott said it all depends upon her agency obtaining federal, state and city funding.

Demolition is best option

As for the demolition, Elliot said they will be submitting an application to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development in the coming weeks. HUD's top leadership has already agreed that it is the best option.

No date has been set for the razing, although since last year the city's housing authority has been working with Montana-based Blue Line Development on how to proceed.

The firm, which specializes in projects like the high rise, determined that demolition was the best option as the building has small 300-square-foot units with low ceilings, asbestos in the walls, rotting pipes, lead-based paint and units with bed bugs.

"No one wants to live in such a small unit anymore," Elliott said. "And there were no amenities."

Elliott said the housing agency has been debating for more than a decade on what to do with the "massive building," which she said started out as housing strictly for senior citizens. Then, younger people with lower incomes started moving in, which transformed the makeup of the tenants.

About 10 years ago, the housing authority tried to create larger units by knocking down walls, Elliot said. But the experiment didn't work well because of the structure of the building and the asbestos.

The housing authority director also recalled at one time former North Dakota U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan had an $11 million earmark approved to make plans for the structure's future, but then the earmarks were suddenly eliminated before the funding became reality.

Thus, officials have been facing the question of what to do for years.

Residents finally began moving out last summer knowing that the building would either be demolished or renovated. Former residents are scattered across the city and using vouchers to help pay for rent, Elliot said.

The cost for the demolition and abatement of asbestos could be as high as $5 million, and Elliott said they are working to obtain funding for the first step of revitalizing the riverfront site.

Preliminary plans for the new building include one- to three-bedroom units with underground parking and other amenities never available in the current high rise, Elliot said. The plan tentatively calls for the building to be called Lashkowitz Riverfront.

"It could be a very nice building overlooking the river," Elliott said.