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Helmut Schmidt, Published December 07 2009

Two downtown housing projects on horizon

Fargo civic and business leaders say at least two downtown housing and retail projects are on the horizon.

While no plans have been released for review, both projects would be well-positioned to take advantage of North Dakota State University’s expansion into the old city center.

Longtime Fargo developers and restaurateurs Randy Thorson and Warren Ackley hope to build a retail and housing complex on the NP Avenue parking lot between Old Broadway and North Dakota State University’s Renaissance Hall.

Thorson said he and Ackley have worked on the possibilities for months, and have drawings for various sizes of projects.

He envisions a four-story building, with the top two floors dedicated to studio and one-bedroom apartments, with some two-bedroom units.

The bottom two floors would be a mix of retail and commercial, he said.

“We’re just going to wait a little while,” Thorson said. “We want to determine what size to build it.”

Thorson said any plan would have to go before the City Commission, and he wants to be sure the property isn’t needed for parking.

Thorson and Ackley own 40 percent of the parking lot, which is kept full by tenants and Old Broadway patrons. However, the city part of the lot is not fully used, Thorson said.

“I think this is something we’ll look at in the spring,” Thorson said.

‘A big, big, big win’

West of the city center and a block from NDSU’s Richard H. Barry Hall, the former Taco Bell at 1001 1st Ave. N. was sold and will probably be demolished soon to make way for another project.

Fargo assessor’s office files show the property is owned by Rodney G. Miller and Josh Brekke. They list a Fargo post office box as an address.

Jim Lokken, an area man who brokered the sale and identified himself as a partner in the project, said plans are not finalized.

“We’re not absolutely final, final with everything that’s going on there,” Lokken said.

He said the plans could “change substantially.”

No answer was received to several calls to Brekke seeking comment.

“That (a project on the Taco Bell site) is definitely in the works,” said City Commissioner Dave Piepkorn, who expects ground will be broken in the spring.

John Serati, former owner of the restaurant, said one plan considered by the new owners includes apartments with underground parking.

“I think it’s going to be a big, big, big win for the city. It looks good,” he said.

Depending on the size of the project, the developers of the Taco Bell site may need to buy land or air rights north of their lot.

Or, they could seek land to the west.

Pierce Printing President Rick Graalum told The Forum in a September interview that the firm has been visited by several groups of investors.

“There’s a whole lot of things going on downtown,” Piepkorn said. “It’s very exciting.”

Prime area

A project civic and business leaders fervently hope succeeds is the Kilbourne Group’s effort to reinvigorate a prime chunk of downtown: the U.S. Bank plaza and surface parking lot on Broadway between Second and Third avenues.

In August, Kilbourne Group obtained an 18-month option on the property, with an 18-month extension, giving it three years to fill the 48,000-square-foot space.

So far, the firm has little news to share.

“At this time, we actually do not have any plans drawn. We’ve been meeting with potential tenants and finding out different levels of interest,” said Mike Allmendinger, general manager for the Fargo-based firm.

When enough interest is found, “then we’ll go through some design development for the actual project,” he said.

“There’s a lot of moving parts there,” Piepkorn said of the Kilbourne project. “It will be developed, but it will be a matter of time to get everyone on the same page.”

Meanwhile, the Cityscapes building’s first-floor commercial area at 630 1st Ave. N. will soon have a 5,000-square-foot NDSU bookstore, said Paul Johnson, senior commercial Realtor for Cityscapes Development.

He said it should be done by the middle of this month. Another 2,000 square feet is being leased to NDSU campus security.

Johnson said conversations are under way with two restaurants, a fitness center and a retail store to fill the other 33,000 square feet of first-floor space.

“A grocery store we’d love to see … but we’re meeting dead ends so far,” Johnson said.

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