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Published October 09 2009

Forum editorial: Another honor for downtown

The people of Fargo know downtown renaissance has changed the character of the central business district for the better. Now a highly respected national organization of city planners has concluded that downtown is one of the best neighborhoods in the country. The American Planning Association cited downtown Fargo’s historic character and its successful revitalization as factors in naming the district one of the “10 Neighborhoods for 2009” in its Great Places of America program.

The honor is a big deal. The APA’s membership is composed of city planners who are on the front lines of local neighborhood revitalization. They know good city planning when they see it. Fargo’s work downtown met their criteria for one of the best restorations and revitalizations in the nation.

Fargo City Commissioner Mike Williams put it nicely when he said of the APA honor: It’s icing on the cake. But it’s been the work on the cake itself that qualifies as a kind of urban miracle.

Twenty years ago, downtown was unattractive, to understate the situation. Several blocks qualified as blighted. There was little to draw people into the central district. People who came downtown to work got away from downtown when the workday was done. A handful of businesses were relatively successful, but overall, downtown was deteriorating.

Despite the regular cadre of naysayers, city officials and enlightened state legislators saw potential in a “new” downtown if incentives for private investment were established. The result was “Renaissance Zone” legislation, which offered tax incentives to developers who were willing to rehab old buildings. Former state Rep. John Dorso of Fargo was one of the champions of the legislation. It turned out to be the catalyst for transformation, not only in Fargo, but for dozens of other North Dakota cities.

The rest, as they say, is history. In the last 15 years, investment in Fargo’s downtown has topped $100 million and the value of downtown properties has nearly doubled in less than a decade to $218 million. One of the first major investments, the HoDo, took an old residential hotel and converted into a high-end hotel and restaurant that have become nationally known. The HoDo’s success was impetus for more private investment.

The importance of North Dakota State University’s downtown presence cannot be underestimated. The population of students and faculty has livened up the area. It’s also important to acknowledge longtime believers in downtown, including the owners of restaurants like Old Broadway – a downtown fixture that took on new life as the renaissance evolved.

The APA’s recognition is appreciated and welcome. It tells the nation that Fargo has done it right.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.