The Moorhead Center Mall seemed like the ideal solution to eliminate what then was a deteriorating, flood-prone residential area when it was built in the 1970s.
Shopping malls were in vogue at the time, a retail trend that was launched by the 72-store Southdale Shopping Center in Edina, built in 1956. Leaders in Moorhead believed a mall in the heart of the city was the perfect answer to Fargo’s West Acres Shopping Center and its struggling downtown.
Development of Moorhead Center Mall required a massive demolition of what had been a distinctive downtown retail establishment — an act of municipal clear-cutting 96 acres that was justified in the name of “urban renewal.”
For a time, Moorhead Center Mall was a viable shopping destination. But for years now it’s become a shabby, sleepy ghost mall in the heart of the city. Various efforts at revitalization have failed to turn it around.
A major blow came in August 2018 when the Herberger’s department store, the mall’s anchor retailer, closed. For years now, the mall hasn’t really functioned as a real mall, a retail hub where shoppers congregate and mill around, patronizing shops and restaurants. The corridors are lonely and forlorn.
Ironically, over four decades the mall has gradually become a dilapidated eyesore, not unlike the blight it once replaced.
So it’s entirely appropriate for the city of Moorhead to entertain bold ideas for a massive Moorhead Center Mall makeover.
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The city is in conceptual talks with Roers Development of Fargo. Possibilities under discussion include a science museum, water park, hotel or condominiums to replace the mall and its parking areas.
Nearby, a new city hall and library could stand. And the shops remaining in Moorhead Center Mall could be liberated, given their own storefronts along Center Avenue — that would be a welcome return to a traditional downtown retail district.
The city owns the tower housing City Hall at the mall, and also owns common areas, including the mall corridors, restrooms, food court as well as the parking ramp and lots. So the city has a big say in the fate of the mall and its future.
The Moorhead City Council has signed a pre-development agreement and option to purchase.
That clears the way for Roers Development to act on behalf of the city in redeveloping the mall. But it’s important to understand that plans still are embryonic and everything is tentative. Still, it’s encouraging to see that city leaders have decided that it’s time to redevelop some of the city’s most prime real estate, strategically located near the Red River.
This is a project that literally will reshape Moorhead’s future. Residents should not sit on the sidelines as the discussion takes place. Public input will help to devise a sound plan that will erase what turned out to be an unfortunate mistake.
This is a huge opportunity for Moorhead, the biggest and most far-reaching redevelopment project in decades. We’re excited to see the plans unfold.