FARGO — Fargo city commissioners approved expanding the city's Renaissance Zone by 1.5 blocks to include the downtown Radisson Hotel and a proposed new apartment and townhome complex in north Fargo.

The change, approved in a 4-1 vote Monday night, March 25, was requested by Radisson owner and operator Brandt Hospitality Group and developer Jesse Craig for his group's project in the Oak Grove neighborhood next to the Red River.

The nearly 20-year-old Renaissance Zone program aims to encourage economic development in downtown business districts in exchange for the possibility of five-year property and state income tax exemptions. After the incentives expire, it’s hoped the higher value of the property will result in greater property tax revenue recouping some of the losses.

Brandt Hospitality CEO Steve Martodam said in a letter that the company plans to transform the hotel into a Radisson Blu. He said top Radisson officials, including the national president of the Blu hotel chain, spent time with Brandt officials and agreed that the building and Fargo are "ready for a Blu."

Martodam said it would be an outside and inside upgrade to the more upscale "Blu" brand. The outside work would include new signage and accent lighting. Inside, the rooms would be entirely rebuilt with a reinvented restaurant and lounge, an expanded fitness center and modernized event gathering space.

Martodam wrote that with the Block 9 project going up next door and its 125-room boutique hotel "we can choose to either accept our declining position or to improve in order to compete." The Radisson has been towering over downtown Fargo since 1982, said Martodam, but that minimal improvements have been made over the past 36 years. He hopes the project would not only allow the hotel to compete better, but also "elevate the look and feel of downtown Fargo."

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Craig has been working on the final plans for the 121-unit, $19 million apartment building in a mostly vacant block that has been in decay for some time. Although neighbors are worried about traffic, crime and an imposing five-story structure, Craig said the remaining buildings there are an eyesore and that the zoning allows such a building. He also plans a second phase that would add townhomes to the block, shielding the neighborhood from some of the structure and adding single-family homes.

Craig met with neighbors at City Hall last week as part of a series of meetings to explain the project in more detail.

Commissioner John Strand questioned if those neighbors were in favor of the Oak Grove project. City staff said there have been meetings but the developer has yet to submit formal applications for the project so it could move forward.

With the expanded Renaissance Zone, the city would almost be at the maximum of 49 blocks of such zoning allowed by the state government. The two additions would put the zone at 48.5 blocks.

Commissioner Tony Gehrig, who voted against the zoning addition, asked why projects, in south Fargo for example, couldn't be added to the zone. Commissioner Dave Piepkorn agreed, saying other parts of town could benefit from the tax breaks, too.

However, Commissioner Tony Grindberg said the zone was intended to help improve or replace aging structures in downtown areas, and that many of the structures in south Fargo wouldn't fit into that category.