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Dave Olson, Published October 15 2012

Fargo approves downtown improvement district

FARGO – The Fargo City Commission on Monday gave its unanimous approval to moving forward with a downtown business improvement district.

It has yet to be decided who will manage the district, but one entity that will put its name in the ring is the Downtown Community Partnership of Fargo-Moorhead, which was instrumental in putting the plan together.

Mike Hahn, president and CEO of the Downtown Community Partnership, said the improvement district is defined roughly as the area between First Avenue South and Sanford Medical Center and between University Drive and the Red River.

More than 400 parcels are included, with businesses assigned to one of five tiers for the purpose of determining what services they will receive and how much they will be assessed for them.

Annual assessments will range from about $12 to more than $1,700 for businesses located in the core of the improvement district.

The district will have an annual budget of about $216,000 that would be raised through assessments, as well as about $45,000 worth of contributions from the city that would come in the form of materials and services.

A number of businesses have protested their inclusion in the improvement district, including Pan O’ Gold bakery, which will see an assessment of about $1,600 a year, said Bert Olson, general manager.

Olson told commissioners Monday the business, which employs approximately 200 people, doesn’t expect to see any benefit from being in the district.

Officials said about 7.3 percent of property owners in the improvement district filed protests, far short of the 33 percent protest rate required to nix the plan.

Mayor Dennis Walaker emphasized that the improvement district will be re-evaluated after five years. “None of this is cast in absolute stone,” he said.

Commissioner Mike Williams predicted that once the district is running “people are going to be asking for more.”

Norm Robinson, speaking on behalf of the Downtown Neighborhood Association, a group of homeowners who live downtown, told commissioners: “We are wholeheartedly in support of this.”

Hahn said he hopes to see the district operational by early 2013.

He said a major aspect of the improvement district will be keeping the downtown area clean, particularly when it comes to gutters and sidewalks.

Beautification may also include things like banners and public art, according to Hahn, who said Broadway won’t be the only area benefiting.

“There are a lot of people, at least in our input sessions, that are on Second Avenue, that are on NP, that are University or 10th, that really want to be a part of downtown,” Hahn said.

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