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Published December 09 2010

Forum editorial: Downtown Fargo thrives on new ideas

Fargoans who cherish downtown should take time to view the design proposals for the U.S. Bank Plaza and parking lot on Broadway. The contest, sponsored by a downtown developer, the Kilbourne Group, could be another progressive chapter in the saga of the city’s revitalized and restored downtown.

The competition generated 160 entries from 23 countries. Eighteen came from North Dakota. They are an eclectic collection of ideas that range from fanciful to pragmatic. They are the work of students and professional architects. They confirm that interest in Fargo’s downtown is not limited to Fargo.

That being said, some of the entries are – to be kind – less than realistic. It is unlikely, for example, that redevelopment of the plaza and parking lot will include a man-made ski hill incorporated into an office building, or a gigantic self-sustaining greenhouse, or a skyscraper visible for miles outside the city. But the purpose of the contest was to put forth ideas that might be incorporated into a project on the site. “Stretch the way people think,” is how the Kilbourne Group’s Doug Burgum put it. The group has 19 months left on an agreement to purchase and develop the site.

Downtown’s success in the past decade has been an upbeat local story and a national attention-getter for Fargo. But every renaissance that starts out as successful as this downtown rejuvenation tends to plateau. It’s easy to forget what a dead zone downtown was before the renaissance. It’s easy to take even remarkable progress for granted.

That’s why the Kilbourne Group contest is important. There is no guarantee that the winning entry ($15,000 prize) will become the ultimate design for the plaza/parking lot space. But what likely will emerge from the competition is an amalgam of possibilities and concepts that could be applied to a serious project. The location, after all, is in the heart of downtown. It is a rare large open space with great potential to be an anchor development that helps further redefine downtown as a place to be.

The entries will be on display through Dec. 18 at the Loretta Building at 208 Broadway. Take a look. Open up to the possible.

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