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Businesses face decision

Rita Dickelman is juggling clients, students and employees - and pens, scissors and telephones, too - on a typically busy morning. For 28 years, the proprietor of Rita's Moorhead Beauty School, 17 4th St. S., has enjoyed almost every minute of he...


Rita Dickelman is juggling clients, students and employees - and pens, scissors and telephones, too - on a typically busy morning.

For 28 years, the proprietor of Rita's Moorhead Beauty School, 17 4th St. S., has enjoyed almost every minute of her daily juggling act.

"It's a lot of work sometimes. But I've never regretted my decision" to take over the business, she said.

Now, though, Dickelman has something else to deal with.

A city development project could move her business and three others on her downtown block to new locations.


City officials are preparing buyout offers for the four businesses.

A fifth business on the block, Crown Trophy, already accepted a city offer and will be moving, probably to Fargo.

The city will pay Crown Trophy $117,500 - $82,500 for the land and building, and $35,000 for the cost of moving and re-establishing the business in Fargo.

"For our business, accepting the city's offer was just best," said Jeff Fowler, co-owner of Crown Trophy. "It had nothing to do with Moorhead's business climate or anything like that. We still believe in Moorhead."

The block's four other businesses have varied reactions to the potential buyouts.

Leroy Anderson, who heads Farmers Insurance Group at 19 4th St., said he's not sure what will happen to his business, which has operated on the site for 30 years.

Building owner Robert Roesler couldn't be reached for comment.

GaNé Skatvold, who operates Atomic Coffee at 15 4th St. S., said she did not want to comment on the possible buyout.


Dickelman leases space in her building. Its owner, Stuart Boyer, didn't return phone calls seeking comment.

Dickelman said she needs to prepare for the possibility the building will be sold to the city.

"I don't know what will happen. But I have to keep my options," she said.

She's already talked with city officials about receiving relocation aid if the beauty shop needs to move.

She's interested in what the city has to offer and is considering other potential locations, but hasn't decided.

Unlike Dickelman, Donald Wood, who operates Ralph's Corner at 21 and 23 4th St. S. and owns the building, said he isn't interested in moving his business.

He views the city's effort as a heavy-handed effort to chase away established businesses.

"We've been here 48 years. That ought to count for something," he said. "But they don't seem to want us here."


City eyes block

For now, the city has no specific plans for the block.

But city officials said the block - sandwiched between two other downtown development projects - can play a big role in Moorhead's future.

"A lot of good things could be done with that site," said Peter Doll, the city's director of developmental services.

To the east and north, the city is working on a $16 million project that calls for 35,000 square feet of new commercial space and 300 parking spaces.

To the west, the new Main Avenue bridge is being built. It's expected to open this fall.

Because of those projects, the backs of the 50- to 70-year-old buildings on the Fourth Street block, previously hidden by other buildings, will be visible when the bridge opens.

That's not the image Moorhead wants to present to the world, City Manager Bruce Messelt said.


"What do you do when your back door becomes your front door?" he said.

So the City Council decided earlier this summer that businesses on the block will need to renovate or relocate.

The businesses didn't show much interest in renovation - Woods, for instance, complained that renovating his business would cost about $400,000 - so the city began preparing buyout offers.

The businesses now have the option of accepting a buyout or agreeing to renovations, Messelt said.

"What's not an option is for them to do nothing," he said.

If a business on the block doesn't renovate or move, the city would consider condemning it, Doll said.

"Condemnation is an option we're not ruling out. We don't like it, but we're not afraid of it," he said.

Wood said he wouldn't be surprised if the city turned to condemnation.


"It's happened before. This whole thing reminds me of urban renewal in the '60s," he said.

Not the first time

The city's massive urban renewal project in the 1960s and 1970s stretched out nearly two decades and transformed the face of downtown Moorhead.

The project involved nearly 100 acres from between Main and Center avenues north to the Red River and from Eighth Street west to the Red.

About 80 mostly small and aging commercial buildings containing about 150 businesses were torn down as part of the project, according to Forum articles from the period.

The project also relocated about 125 families and 120 individuals.

Financed in part with about $6 million in federal funds, the project was marked by delays, lawsuits, controversies and condemnations.

But the city persevered, and a number of new buildings - including City Hall and the Center Mall - eventually were built in the urban renewal zone.


Doll said the current downtown redevelopment, though smaller in scope, is important, too.

"What's being done now really will shape the future of downtown Moorhead," he said.

Anderson, of Farmers Insurance Group, said he understand the city's side.

"I can see what they're trying to accomplish," he said.

Dickelman said she sees it, too.

"These are older buildings, and I can understand why the city is interested in changes," she said.

She doesn't look forward to possibly leaving her business home of 28 years, though.

"There are so many good memories here. And there's so much camaraderie," she said.

Employees of other businesses on the block frequently have their hair cut at Dickelman's beauty school, and her students often buy coffee at Atomic Coffee or eat at Ralph's Corner, she said.

But if change must come, Dickelman said she'll make the most of it.

"I guess it's a double-edged sword. It's a little frightening. But it's exciting, too - to find out what will happen next," she said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Jonathan Knutson at (701) 241-5530

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