WEST FARGO — Reconstruction of northern Sheyenne Street is finally done, but the installation of benches along the sidewalks has some residents turned around.
The majority of the roughly 20 sidewalk benches all face away from the street, with views of building walls or blank lots. Although the benches were recently installed, social media posts are gathering many comments, noting the benches face away from the street that hosts the action of West Fargo's Cruise Nights and West Fest parade seem to be an odd choice.
Longtime Commissioner Mark Simmons got in on ribbing, posting his own picture facing the Silver Dollar. However, Simmons notes that the direction of the benches was designed by a landscape architect, subcontracted on the project. Simmons said it's actually common practice for benches to face the sidewalk rather than the street, although he, too, was initially surprised by the bench placement.
"When I first saw it I was kind of wondering, why they are like this?" Simmons said. "It's a lot of people's first question. That was the recommended way for them. If you go downtown Fargo, they are pointed towards the buildings. It's not uncommon at all, it's very common."
Roben Anderson, who lives near Sheyenne Street, said there has been some talk of the bench placement in his neighborhood. However, he's hopeful it could make more sense in the future if additional foot traffic is generated in The Yards, or West Fargo's downtown.
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"Anyone I’ve talked to thinks it’s definitely an odd placement. I do, too," Anderson said. "However, I think it wouldn’t seem so odd if we were to have more foot traffic along the street, like more stores for people shopping, etc. I think over time as the area develops it’ll make more sense but right now, definitely odd placement."
Deputy City Administrator Tim Solberg said the city trusted its professional design team on the project to decide the benches should face the activity at local businesses.
"This is generally a typical design decision for a downtown and that is what we are trying to create for West Fargo," Solberg said. "It is not surprising that some residents might find it initially odd as the downtown has some properties that are still developing, however count me in the crowd that would prefer to look at the buildings and activity happening in them 365 days a year than the six days a year we have the parade or Cruise Night on the street."
Simmons said the commission did not specifically approve the bench placement as a line item but he would be open to changing the benches if requested by residents.
Simmons said the benches could likely simply be turned around, or they could be replaced with backless benches.
However, the current benches cost about $1,800 each. Simmons said backless benches usually cost more but would likely cost about $500 to $1,000 each if installed by city staff.
While some of the benches in downtown Fargo face the sidewalks and buildings, the benches in West Fargo along the Main Avenue walking path all face north, or towards Main Avenue.
"This was recommended and we took the recommendation. It's not mandated we keep it," Simmons said. "If the people want to change it., then we'll talk cost. Let's have the conversation, what do you want to do."
The benches and their cost were part of the multi-phased, $10.5 million reconstruction project of Sheyenne Street from Main Avenue south to Seventh Avenue. While major infrastructure updates were installed, the city also worked to narrow the road and improve its functionality with parking and walkability features. The road was fully reopened earlier this month.
Solberg said a collective public request to flip the benches would be heeded.
"If the public collectively wants them flipped, the commission could certainly direct staff to do so and it would be our pleasure to make that shift," Solberg said.