Dave Olson, Published January 01 2013
Retirement highlights changes in Fargo planning office
His departure will underscore changes taking place in the city planning department when it comes to job titles and responsibilities.
In the following, Fargo Planning Director Jim Gilmour discusses what will change and what will not, while Stein reflects on the new face of downtown and those who have been instrumental in its rebirth.
Also, Cari Luchau, a member of the board of directors of the Downtown Community Partnership of Fargo-Moorhead, and a co-owner of
c. lizzy’s, a downtown Fargo business, shares her perspective on the future.
Q: What has been the situation in the planning department, and how will things differ starting early next year?
JG: Instead of having two senior planners, one planner and one assistant planner, what we’re going to have is one planning administrator, two planners and one assistant planner.
Q: Bob Stein has played a central role in the development of downtown, including the city’s Renaissance Zone program and downtown parking. Who will get his portfolio?
JG: Some of his parking duties and Renaissance Zone duties will be split amongst different people. We’re still going to have four people in the (planning) group, but the (downtown) duties are going to be divided amongst three people, rather than have one person focus on it.
Q: Do you see downtown Fargo getting less attention from the city?
JG: No. I think what we’ve seen throughout the years is there were times that Bob was extremely busy and some things had to go on the back burner for a while. I think this arrangement will be more balanced throughout the year between redevelopment and new development.
Q: Bob, you’ve been deeply involved with the city’s Renaissance Zone program, which offers property owners tax incentives to develop locations downtown. How successful has that been?
BS: I can look back with pride at the projects that were done, but it was really a combination of things that came together.
Nothing beats timing, and I came on when there was a strong commitment to the downtown by Mayor Bruce Furness and the City Commission, and a strong commitment by the private sector.
Q: What areas have been successful?
BS: I think without that (Renaissance Zone) program there would be no residential development downtown. A lot of the people you see downtown now live here and that wasn’t the case before. You have to have that type of 24/7 presence in order for a downtown to be healthy.
Q: Can you talk about specific projects you feel were successful?
BS: Renaissance Hall (the former Northern School Supply building) was a key one. They had hired a wrecking ball to come in and knock it down when (developer/preservationist) Doug Burgum decided to purchase that building. It really demonstrated that somebody cared.
And the Hotel Donaldson … the idea of putting a boutique hotel in was unheard of. Well, (owner) Karen Stoker undertook that, investing a lot of time and money into that project. That investment really emboldened other people to say, “We want to do something with our business.”
Q: Are you leaving Fargo after you retire?
BS: I’m retiring to Roberts Street in Fargo. I live in a condo right downtown and I love it. It’s been a great move for me.
Q: Cari, are the changes in the city’s planning department causing any worries?
CL: No. We’ve definitely been assured that commitment is there, not only by staff members, but by the City Commission.
Obviously, we lose a very valuable asset in Bob Stein, but I think given the strength of the Downtown Community Partnership and just the strength of the businesses and the local developers and their commitment to downtown, we’re only on a path to good things.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555
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