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Published May 15 2012

Kilbourne Group gives Broadway’s Loretta Block new life

FARGO – When Doug Burgum and the Kilbourne Group bought the Loretta Block, a weathered, century-old landmark squarely in the middle of Broadway in downtown Fargo, they couldn’t help but feel the pressure to make whatever they did with it stand the test of time.

“This was an impressively well-built building 100 years ago,” Burgum said. “One of the questions you’ve got to ask yourself is, ‘What is being built in Fargo today that will still be around 100 years from now?’ ”

After two years of renovations and expansion work, the new first tenants will move into the building at 208 through 212 Broadway in June, marking a comeback of sorts for a long-underused structure with a storied past.

The Loretta Block, built in two phases in 1909 and 1912, was named after the youngest daughter of Peter Elliot, a pioneer who drove an ox team to Fargo in 1873. Elliot went on to become a prominent businessman, councilman and mayor, and general paterfamilias of the city. Two other downtown buildings – the Powers Hotel at 400 Broadway and the McKone Block at 206 – were named after his sons-in-law.

Over the decades, the building was at various times the home of a furniture company, a cattle company, Scheel’s Hardware, a stereo store, a paint store and a jeweler, among other things. The only current tenant is Boerth’s Gallery, which weathered the storm as the building was gutted and refurbished around it.

By the time the Kilbourne Group acquired the building in 2010, only 9,500 of its 27,000 square feet were leasable. The second and third floors were unusable.

Over the course of the $6 million renovation project, the group had to deal with decades of deferred maintenance, bring the building up to code, and reunite two sections that had long been walled off as the building got split up.

The Kilbourne Group also had to re-establish the building’s roots on Broadway in a very literal sense by hydraulically jacking new supports 90 feet down into the bedrock.

When work is complete, the renovated building will have 47,000 square feet of space, including a new fourth floor.

The ground floor will be retail space – Mike Allmendinger, general manager of the Kilbourne Group, won’t yet say who’s coming – and the upper floors will be offices. The basement level is still up for grabs.

The Kilbourne Group itself will move into the third floor, along with Allmendinger’s Land Elements architecture firm, and venture capital firm Arthur Ventures, which Burgum chairs. Burgum said he expects Intelligent InSites, the health care tech company of which he’s currently the interim president and chief executive, to move there as well.

When all is said and done, the group expects the building to house up to a dozen tenants.

Burgum said the group has turned down a handful of bars that wanted to move in, in an effort to foster balance in downtown businesses.

“If you have a rich neighborhood, you have a mix of live, work, play, shop. It’s not just drink,” he said. “The bars will happen without us. The retail may not happen without us.”

The building will also have a pass-through to the alley on the other side, which Burgum hopes will become a vibrant pedestrian stretch in its own right.

He knows the passage will be a hit, he said, because nearby JLG Architects, which opens to both Broadway and the alley, is used to having strangers cut through its offices without warning during the winter.

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

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