IMPACT MAGAZINE: Soaring skylines: What the metro's commercial construction boom offers residents, newcomers
A drive through nearly every part of the metro reveals a common sight, no matter where you are: new construction.
Whether it's beautiful new homes dotting a new development or a commercial building rising from the prairie, the metro skyline is on a constant cycle of change and growth.
It's exciting to watch, but even more exciting is the realization of what this exceptional expansion of the metro means for everyone living here already as well as those who have yet to call the Fargo-Moorhead-West Fargo area home.
"We have options for the entire community to have a good experience," said Mike Allmendinger, president of Kilbourne Group, which focuses on real estate redevelopment in downtown Fargo.
And those options span each of the three metro cities with development companies planning for more projects to come in the near future.
The city of Moorhead doesn't have an obviously distinct downtown district, but efforts are underway to change that and return mixed-used and residential buildings to the center of the city. The endeavor received a major boost in late 2018 when the city opted to contract with Downtown Moorhead Inc., and its President and CEO Derrick LaPoint. He began acting as the city's economic development director, but assured officials he would be working for a variety of businesses in securing new spaces but also coordinating with development companies seeking new project opportunities.
One of those companies, EPIC Companies of West Fargo, spied one such opportunity and acted quickly. When the city issued a Request For Proposals (RFP) regarding a small parcel of city-owned land at the corner of Fourth Street and Center Avenue near the Moorhead Center Mall, the company jumped at the chance to redevelop what is currently a parking lot into something much more worthwhile.
"That piece of land wasn't thought about before until we sat down and said, 'Where else in Moorhead can we develop?' " explained McKenzy Olson, vice president of marketing and public relations. "They put out an RFP, and we applied for it."
The planned $7 million, four-story building will overlook the Red River and offer 40,000 square feet of mixed use space. The top three floors will include 30 apartments with commercial space and a restaurant on the first floor, with underground parking. The building will be called Bolig Square to reflect the city's strong Norwegian ties; bolig translates to residence.
EPIC Companies set the Moorhead downtown revitalization in motion with the construction of Block E, a $6 million mixed-use center featuring curved glass and a cement-and-aluminum-panel front at the critical intersection of Main Avenue and Eighth Street. The top two floors offer luxurious apartment living while the first and second floors welcomed tenants Choice Financial, Usher's House restaurant, Edward Jones Financial Advisers, an Herbalife Nutrition Club and Eventide Senior Living Communities corporate headquarters. The building officially opened its doors in June.
"For us, it's about making things better for the community as a whole," Olson said about EPIC's approach to determining what projects the company will seek. "It's about how you make people feel. If they feel good, they're going to want to come back."
A return to roots
As Moorhead continues to bolster its downtown development efforts, across the river in Fargo a spate of new projects are focused on maximizing space and capitalizing on the walkability of a well-structured, vibrant downtown.
"Downtown Fargo, historically, was the central business district, and that original intent of downtown has been realized," Allmendinger said. "We want an 18-hour city with active, mixed uses like retail, boutiques and restaurants open on the weekends and in the evenings."
Walkability is a major component of the vibrancy Kilbourne advocates, and more people and development companies have begun seeing the value of a walkable experience in a city. Allmendinger said he often stops throughout the day to look out his office window in the historic Loretta Building on Broadway to watch the groups of people traversing the sidewalks, and he is thrilled with how many people he sees.
"Kilbourne talks about projects in terms of walkability, and the national demand indicates more people want that design and experience," Allmendinger said.
While Allmendinger is proud of every project Kilbourne works on, he pointed to the Block 9 project rapidly rising in the heart of downtown Fargo. The $117 million, 18-story multi-use tower is already transforming the skyline and will ultimately dominate downtown as the tallest building in the city once it is completed in fall 2020 at 237 feet.
Instead of a surface parking lot of concrete in the historic downtown district, Block 9 will include a boutique hotel, restaurant, condos, commercial office space for R.D. Offutt Co. and other tenants, retail space and a parking ramp. Not to mention, a plaza on the south side of the block will be available more than half the year by the Fargo Park District by offering an ice skating room, band shell for outdoor performances and a splash pad.
"That was a surface parking lot for 43 years in the middle of downtown," Allmendinger said.
Kilbourne Group Director of Communication Adrienne Olson pointed out that other developers or even singular businesses are seeing new opportunities to transform even a part of the skyline by adding new floors or rooftop patios.
"We're seeing the growth of the center of arts and culture," Olson said. "We have a shared history and everyone can come down and enjoy the heartbeat of Fargo."
City on the grow
West Fargo's nickname of "a city on the grow" is being realized every day as new construction projects are completed or get underway. Incredible development along Sheyenne Street has indelibly changed its skyline.
In 2017, the five-story, 124,000-square-foot Sheyenne Plaza was finished with a plaza completed in 2018 as a nearby complex called Pioneer Place began emerging from the ground. It was completed in the spring 2019.
This summer, a similar building on Sheyenne Street officially opened its doors, welcoming commercial and residential tenants to the four-and-a-half story building that features a large open community space on top.
"It's so exciting, and looking back, at the end of the day, it is a really walkable district now," McKenzy Olson said of the changes along Sheyenne Street south of Main Avenue. "When you see it coming together, we really are bringing more people to the area."
While Olson is especially pleased by the development along West Fargo's most prominent street, she gets excited thinking about another West Fargo project that will transform a dynamic area south of 13th Avenue.
Lights at Sheyenne 32, a $54 million project under construction on more than 6 acres at the intersection of Sheyenne and 32nd Avenue, will feature three mixed-use building, a partially city-owned parking ramp as well as an extensive outdoor space where entertainment and public events can be held.
The first building is set for completion in January 2020. The entire complex is being designed to account for all types of North Dakota weather and to accommodate a wide range of clients who may call the residential spaces home.
So what does all of this change bring?
"One of the first words that comes to mind is 'opportunities'," Olson said. "The jobs or commercial spaces mean an entrepreneur can find a new space for a start-up, and the residential spaces mean you can be picky about you live. . . . we talk a lot about changing the vertical landscape — taking a piece of land and using it in a new way."