Fires have created many of the blank spots in downtown Fargo. Many became bland asphalt parking lots, but later found new life through the redevelopment renaissance that has revitalized downtown.
The latest victim of fire downtown is the former site of Mid America Steel at 92 NP Avenue. Investigators have determined that arson is to blame for a fire that gutted the main building on the site.
Mid America Steel abandoned the site at the urging of the city, which has plans to redevelop the choice 11-acre property, located near the Red River. Now what had been the last remnant of Fargo’s historic “Machinery Row” has been left a burned-out eyesore and safety hazard.
The blight at one of the gateways to the city shouldn’t be allowed to last long.
City officials should view this as an opportunity to accelerate their plans for demolishing the Mid America Steel buildings and redevelop a piece of prime real estate.
The project is complicated by contamination of the site, which was home to Mid America Steel from 1905 until the company relocated to an industrial park in north Fargo. Operations at the site date back at least to 1893, and likely sooner, dating back to the era of blacksmiths and foundries.
An environmental review in 2017 found residues of heavy metals, which will have to be cleaned up before any redevelopment, and asbestos must be removed from the buildings before demolition.
The city should put all of the actions and preparations to allow demolition on a fast track. An important step will come in two weeks, when the City Commission can decide whether to approve the new riverfront development plan.
Planning commissioners have approved the plan, which has the potential to turn a multi-block area into property with an estimated value of $200 million.
The project also will involve a partnership with private developers, possibly entailing creation of a tax increment financing district that could pay for demolition and site work that must precede redevelopment.
This project has been in planning and discussion for years. The city should move with deliberate speed to transform this crucial location, which is part of a bigger transformation of the riverfront area, one that could include a pedestrian bridge to Moorhead.
Fires are destructive. But they can be catalysts. The RDO Building now towering over downtown Fargo replaced a drab parking lot and “plaza” that paved over a block of retail businesses that were torn down after a devastating fire in 1976.
It took more than four decades to restore the vitality of a key part of the heart of the city.
The city shouldn’t allow the former Mid America Steel site to lie fallow for a prolonged time. City leaders should seize this opportunity to make something grand happen there. And they should act sooner rather than later.
Because what’s left there now is a fire-scorched and crumbling hulk that casts a grim shadow over a downtown that’s otherwise brimming with new life.