Letter: There's more to Broadway than meets the eye
The space itself (Broadway Square) has been heavily commercialized, with sponsorships ranging from a $50 selfie stand, to $1,500 for a water filling station, to $100,000 for a mega-screen. When spaces are privatized, they become transactional, and center on commercial interests instead of community needs.
As I was walking through downtown recently, I noticed that the corner of Broadway and Second Avenue North had been populated with green grass and bright red chairs. I was happy to see a new public green space in the center of town—the pandemic has reaffirmed how important green spaces are for public health and community building. But after taking a closer look, I saw that the neat green rectangle, known as Broadway Square, was actually AstroTurf. This feature represents a broader issue: much like its artificial grass, the development is exciting from far away, but questionable up close.
Broadway Square is part of a project called Block 9, co-developed by the Kilbourne Group and RDO Equipment Company. The development includes an enormous building with a hotel, restaurant, condos, offices, and retail space. The adjacent Broadway Square plaza is intended to be “a place for the community to gather and share ideas, stories, experiences and perspectives.” I appreciate having a space to rest and gather with friends downtown. I also admire that the space features amenities for people of all ages. The skating rink in the winter and musical performances in the summer look like wonderful ways to encourage recreation and celebration.
But these attractions distract from bigger changes to the downtown landscape. Since its founding in 2006, the Kilbourne Group has notoriously contributed to a sharp increase in gentrification . Skyrocketing property values from luxury apartments are pushing people out of their homes and contributing to inequality in the heart of Fargo. Rather than address the issue, Kilbourne Group denies it, stating that Block 9’s million dollar condos will simply add to the housing stock. But the Kilbourne Group ignores the way its luxury developments increase rents for small businesses, community groups, and families in the area, who are already being displaced as a result.
And while the plaza itself has some perks, it’s accompanied by an 18-story concrete building jutting out of the ground. I wonder if Fargoans would be as accepting of this new addition to the Fargo skyline if it weren’t accompanied by a plaza. The Kilbourne Group is having an enormous impact on downtown Fargo, largely without input from the people most affected by its business ventures. We must ask ourselves: is this the kind of downtown we as a community want?
The space itself has been heavily commercialized, with sponsorships ranging from a $50 selfie stand, to $1,500 for a water filling station, to $100,000 for a mega-screen. When spaces are privatized, they become transactional , and center on commercial interests instead of community needs. Broadway Square calls itself a “privately owned public space.” But what Fargo really needs is more publicly-owned public spaces. Public spaces should be for the people, not owned and carved up by companies and marketed to the people. The Park District should make it a priority to designate city land for public gathering spaces, not piggyback on private commercial spaces. With the $15.5 million in tax breaks the city was willing to provide for the Block 9 development, coming up with the money shouldn’t be a problem.
More public green spaces could be a wonderful addition to downtown Fargo. Yet Broadway Square falls short of the needs of the community and distracts from the Kilbourne Group’s harmful gentrification and drastic changes to the area. To foster a more inclusive community, we must work to promote equitable public spaces and keep downtown from being exploited by commercial interests.
Martha Denton lives in Fargo.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.