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Dave Olson, Published October 01 2011

Officials say downtown Fargo 'churn' not a cause for concern

FARGO – When a store closes on a high-profile corner in downtown Fargo, it raises questions about the general business climate.

But the recent departure of KotiKites and Windsports from 102 Broadway shouldn’t be cause for concern, according to Mike Hahn, president and CEO of the Downtown Business Partnership.

“We’re always going to see churn,” said Hahn, who described KotiKites as an innovative concept that, unfortunately, didn’t take off.

“They tried it and it didn’t work,” he said.

Vlana Vlee, a retail clothing store that was the former tenant on the same corner, closed last October.

But Hahn stressed that other businesses have succeeded in making homes for themselves downtown, including the Great Northern Bicycle Co.; Art Materials; Monte’s restaurant; and the Hotel Donaldson.

Bob Stein, a senior planner with the city of Fargo, shares Hahn’s impression of how downtown is doing.

A little more than a year ago, Stein took a drive around the city to gauge the number of empty storefronts.

He came up with an unofficial vacancy rate of about 15 percent in available retail spaces in the downtown zone.

The percentage is likely no higher now, he said, because even as stores like KotiKites have closed, other spaces that were empty a year ago are now occupied.

And Stein is optimistic 102 Broadway will not remain empty for long.

“That’s such an attractive location, it’s going to fill up quickly,” he said.

His optimism does not extend to the Syndicate Block on the corner across First Avenue from the former KotiKites store.

A large amount of space in the Syndicate Block has sat empty for years, and numerous for-rent signs adorn the building.

“It’s kind of a hard one to talk about,” Stein said, preferring instead to talk about what he feels helps a property secure tenants.

“The spaces that have been willing to invest in improvements have been a lot more successful in filling their spaces than the ones who have not,” Stein said.

Nachhattar Gill, who owns a number of properties downtown, including empty space in the Syndicate Block, said he is continuing to look for tenants and will rent to any he finds appropriate.

Gill added that unlike some owners of downtown property who have applied for and received tax abatements, he continues to pay property taxes on space that is unrented.

He stressed that his Broadway Classic Subs business is very successful, describing it as “solid as a brick.”

Farther north on Broadway, a mixed-use renovation of the Dixon and Moose buildings is currently nearing completion, according to Matt Baasch, a real estate developer for Urban Plains Land Co.

Baasch said the lion’s share of commercial space in the lower levels of the buildings already has tenants lined up and he said interest is high in the apartments available in the upper levels.

Apartments in the Dixon building are expected to be ready for occupants sometime in October, and it’s anticipated apartments in the Moose building will be ready in December, Baasch said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555