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Helmut Schmidt, Published August 07 2009

Ramp closing may be opportunity

A downtown business spokesman said Thursday that the closing of Fargo’s U.S. Bank ramp may spur a development proposal for the site that has been in the works on and off since 2002.

“The timing of it was just about perfect,” said Dave Anderson, president of the Downtown Community Partnership. “There is some movement … on what is coming together there.”

Anderson said city and business officials have “known for years that that ramp’s days were numbered. Several of us have been moving toward a development solution.”

Anderson said an announcement of “a proposal that I think is going to be very helpful” could be made as soon as next week, but he said he could not comment further.

City Commissioner Mike Williams said the block is underdeveloped.

He also said that talks have “been under way for quite a long time. There have been some interested developers.”

The ramp was abruptly closed Wednesday after a structural engineer warned that it was unsafe and that some parts could collapse.

On Thursday, a temporary move for the 150 parking-space renters to the Civic Center lot (about two blocks east), was going well, city Senior Planner Bob Stein said.

“There’s a good connection through the skyway. That’s not the permanent solution for everybody, but it was the quick, easy fix,” Stein said.

In the meantime, long-term fixes, such as using underground spaces in the Ground Transportation Center, or perhaps creating a circulator bus route to take advantage of space in the Island Park ramp, are being reviewed, Stein said.

The decision to close the ramp came after an e-mail was sent at 2:49 p.m. Wednesday from Jim Heyer, a Fargo structural engineer, to Stein.

“The corrosion [of the ramp] has progressed in several areas to the point of seriousness,” Heyer wrote. “In addition, we noticed vertical stress cracks on several beams. Several columns also have additional and more severe corrosion of rebar and de-lamination. We also noted potential shear cracks on the column haunches along the north exterior face.

“In addition, the center core ramp has deteriorated to what I feel is a dangerous level. I am also concerned with this core structure and its connection to the rest of the ramp. These connections are in an extremely serious condition. There is a potential that if the core collapsed, it could bring some of the ramp with,” Heyer wrote.

Stein said a concrete expert will take a look at the ramp Monday.

That same expert, Tom Downs, president of BKBM Engineers of Minneapolis, recommended annual inspections of the ramp eight years ago. Stein said he doesn’t expect the solution this time to be as easy, or cheap.

The last time the city sought bids for demolishing or rehabilitating the ramp, bids for both alternatives were well over a million dollars, he said.

The ramp was built in 1963 and purchased by the city in 1984.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583