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John Lamb, Published June 30 2013

New downtown blueprint: Contemporary design pops up in urban living spaces

FARGO - Downtown Fargo is turning colors. It’s not the sign of summery growth, but it is the sign of a healthy, vibrant community, some say.

The brown and red earth tones of brick are giving way to bright bold hues like the oranges and blues of new residential spaces in the heart of the city.

The new Marks Building at 408 Roberts St. is the latest to add a splash of color. The new structure, on the northwest corner of Roberts Street and Fourth Avenue North, features vertical sections of sky-blue siding, jumping out against the other subdued, gray surfaces.

Joel Davy of JLG, the Fargo firm that designed the apartments, said the owner, JM Rentals, wanted more of a contemporary look to the 45-unit, four-story building.

Davy says developers and architects will keep pushing design styles forward as downtown continues to develop.

“The new buildings are likely to be different from the ones in the past,” he says. “I think they’ll be contemporary in style, mostly.”

While cutting-edge designs may make their mark on downtown, they may not cut it on Broadway.

“We’d have probably done a different building if we’d have done it right on Broadway,” Davy says.

Brick, stone and more traditional materials would’ve been used if the project would’ve been on downtown’s main drag, he says, though the design would still be more contemporary.

“We would try to find a vocabulary to make it look like it belongs on Broadway,” Davy says.

As the central part of town evolves, architects, developers and planners remain sensitive of the neighborhood’s identity as well as utilizing its potential.

“If we were doing a historic renovation on Broadway, we’d want to be cognizant,” says Doug Burgum, whose Kilbourne Group has developed a number of properties in downtown for both residential and business. “We want to honor the past in how we do that and be an inspiration to the future.”

He points to the 300 Broadway, on the south side of the Fargo Theatre. The Kilbourne Group building includes three floors of 14 condominiums above ground-level retail space and a second screen for the Fargo Theatre.

Davy says the 4-year-old building, designed by DJR Architects in Minneapolis, “blends in to the Broadway aesthetic,” with brick and stone trim.

“You really want to be respectful of the thing that is the most iconic in North Dakota,” Burgum says. “Certainly the most photographed spot in the metro area is the Fargo Theatre marquee. You wouldn’t have wanted to put something next to that that would’ve detracted or taken away from the community sense of the historic nature of that.

But a new set of rules applies off-Broadway in an undeveloped lot, Burgum says.

“Then I think that it is appropriate that architects and designers think outside the traditional, historical box in terms of how they’re defining design for the future,” he says.

Davy agrees and says working off-Broadway allowed more freedom in designing the Marks Building. JLG also designed the Cityscapes apartments on First Avenue North and Roberts Street, just off of Broadway.

The same could be said for the 8th Street Lofts at 21 8th St. N., Fargo, known for its orange paneling and exposed, corrugated metal siding.

The 48-apartment complex, designed by T.L. Stroh Architects, caters to downtown North Dakota State University students. And with the Plains Art Museum being the biggest neighbor, the color and creativity is appreciated.

“They’re bold in their use of color,” Burgum says of the 8th Street Lofts and the Marks. “There’s an element of freshness, eclectic.”

The two major avenues on either side of the lofts, NP Avenue to the south and First Avenue North, will soon switch from one-ways to two-way passages, which downtown planners hope creates more development to the east and west of Broadway.

Kilbourne Group is in the early stages of developing two additional downtown properties.

Projects in the former Fargo Rubber Stamp building, located on the Fourth Street block between First and NP avenues, and at US Bank Plaza, on Broadway and Second Avenue North, are both a ways out without any design plans yet, Burgum says.

With that new development off-Broadway, the door opens for further creative design.

“I think there’s opportunity for taking chances with architecture,” says Joe Nigg, a Fargo city planner, who adds that downtown is only “half-developed” for residential possibilities.

“I think the sky is the limit for downtown Fargo. The city of Fargo and downtown has come a long way,” Nigg says.

“The most exciting thing is that people are living downtown, and they live downtown because they want to live in a walkable, interesting, diverse neighborhood,” Burgum says. “I hope more people keep taking risks and taking chances on design and building for the long-term, something that’s got more than a 20-year life to it.”

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Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533