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Ryan Johnson, Published December 06 2012

NDSU students to unveil riverfront ideas

FARGO – The downtown riverfront area may be in a prime location, but Louie Scheffler said benefits of the site just blocks from the heart of Broadway – and close to the natural assets of the Red River – are lost on its current use as a large parking lot.

He said the area east of Fourth Street between First and Third Avenue North doesn’t work as a gateway from downtown to the scenic green space along the river.

“That huge parking lot that they use for the Civic Center and library kind of creates a visual barrier because you can’t really see the river over the cars, and it’s kind of a psychological barrier because no one really wants to walk through those cars,” he said.

But Scheffler and 17 other fifth-year landscape architect students at North Dakota University will unveil their plans today to change the underused area into a new attraction that could boast apartments and offices, parks, entertainment facilities, and maybe even an ice-skating rink in the winter or a floating stage on the river.

The students will present their conceptual renderings beginning at 8:30 a.m. today in the Commission Room of City Hall, 200 3rd St. N. From 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., the 18 future architects will showcase their plans to a panel of experts who will help decide their grade for the semester.

Lecturer Mehran Madani said students started this semester with three concepts, choosing their best idea they’ve spent the past month developing for today’s presentations.

The assignment to reimagine the riverfront area was open to interpretation, he said. Many of the students’ designs would get rid of City Hall or the Civic Center to make room for new features.

“Theoretically, they can do whatever they want,” Madani said. “But they considered some functional design, too.”

Jake Coryell said a revamped riverfront area could spur new development, including new apartments, retail space and offices, while serving as a community amenity.

“I think it’s an achievable goal that can affect our overall community vitality,” he said.

Coryell’s plan would keep the library and Civic Center. City Hall and the large parking lot would go, making way for a new green space that could connect downtown pedestrians to the riverbank.

Part of the new space could be used for seating areas and a stage, new apartment and office buildings, retail space and amenities like a cultural center, a sky-lit pedestrian tunnel under Second Street and a skating rink.

A major part of Coryell’s design is flood protection, but he said levees would be incorporated into the design to be an attraction, not an eyesore. During floods, the top of the levee would grant views of the water while keeping the city dry.

“The proximity to the river offers an opportunity to integrate a strong physical and visual connection form the downtown to the river while incorporating useable public space,” he said.

Scheffler said his design seeks to expand the river corridor. A major hurdle is the site’s current “monofunction” – City Hall, the Civic Center and the library all typically are used during regular business hours, but the area clears out during evenings and weekends.

That can make the area unsafe, he said, because a mixture of uses such as the shops, restaurants, bars and offices along Broadway keeps people around most of the time.

“You have eyes on the street,” he said. “That makes safe neighborhoods, so that is one reason why the site is disconnected.”

To address the problem, Scheffler would continue Second Avenue North where it now dead-ends at Fourth Street, also adding a green space for pedestrians that would connect the downtown to the river.

The Civic Center and library would stay, while City Hall would be taken out in favor of a new playground near the library, a new parking ramp to replace the existing parking lot and a boardwalk.

Two levees, one on each side of the boardwalk, would feature terraced patios open to the public as a year-round attraction. They would guide pedestrians down to the river, where they’d find a floating pier operating as a stage. During flooding, steel floodgates would close off the gap between the levees.

City Commissioner Mike Williams said the work of the NDSU students could help guide discussion on what to do with the riverfront area, a process similar to input for the Main Avenue bridge that features fiber optic lights and a south deck, ideas that students proposed.

“It’s not like they’re going to design the project,” he said. “But there’s elements that can be garnered off these ideas that could be incorporated into these projects.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan Johnson at (701) 241-5587

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