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Published January 25 2012

Proposal focuses on improving downtown Fargo

FARGO – Whether it’s keeping the sidewalks clean, hanging banners from lampposts or arranging for greeters to guide visitors, Mike Hahn wants to make sure downtown Fargo always looks its best.

Now, his Downtown Community Partnership has a plan to give those beautification efforts some teeth: a proposed Business Improvement District that would give members the power to pay for maintenance and upgrades via city assessments.

Hahn, head of the Community Partnership, said the plan is modeled after similar districts in Winnipeg, Duluth, Minn., Sioux Falls, S.D., and other cities in the region. He said it would let businesses improve downtown in ways that go “above and beyond” existing city services.

That could mean anything from flower baskets to more stringent cleanup and maintenance to hiring “downtown ambassadors” to meet and greet visitors – details, Hahn says, that would push the city to the next level.

“We want downtown to look pristine,” he said.

The plan has been two years in the making. The BID would cover an area bounded roughly by the Red River to the east and University Avenue to the west, stretching from First Avenue South to Seventh Avenue North. Businesses in the district would have the power to vote on improvements and cover the costs via special assessments on the district from the city.

The Community Partnership has scheduled a series of meetings over the next few months in different areas of downtown to gauge interest and gather feedback on the plan. The first is at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday at the Fargo Park District building at 701 Main Ave.

If downtown property owners support the plan, it could go before the Fargo City Commission this spring for a public hearing and approval.

Doug Scraper, owner of Boerth’s Gallery on Broadway and co-owner of Monte’s, called the BID “the icing on the cake” for downtown.

“It’s kind of the next step in creating a vibrant downtown,” said. “We want to have the place look like a show place.”

Brian Hayer, president and chief executive of Warner and Company at 318 Broadway, said it’s important to make sure the improvements to Broadway and downtown made in recent years are well-maintained. He said some flourishes like stonework and signage seem at times like they’ve been neglected.

“What’s been done, we can’t let that slip,” he said. “When we have such a cool downtown, there should be money to replace stuff like that right away.”

It’s not yet clear what assessment bills businesses in the district might get.

Mike Allmendinger, general manager of Kilbourne Group, which owns several properties downtown, said the BID is a welcome opportunity to create a consistently well-kempt look and feel for the area.

He said he’s excited for the coming discussions of how downtown can be improved.

“I think it’ll build awareness,” he said. “It’ll be the way to show more pride about the properties in downtown Fargo.”

For more information, visit http://fargodowntownbid.weebly.com/.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Marino Eccher at (701) 241-5502