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Erik Burgess, Published July 18 2013

Committee members want new City Hall to be a symbol of Fargo

FARGO – When it comes to picking the site for a new City Hall, it’s not all about location, location, location.

Several members of the 13-person committee charged with picking a City Hall site said in their first meeting Thursday that no matter where it’s built, it should be a symbol of Fargo.

“City Hall has to be an image. It’s the image of the community,” former Mayor Bruce Furness said. “It’s an image of the progressiveness that I think Fargo has.”

Members were nominated by city commissioners and Furness, who co-chairs the committee with Mayor Dennis Walaker.

The group has until Oct. 1 to pick a site. The project’s budget is $8 million to $12 million.

Several committee members said the current 24,000-square-foot City Hall does not present an image of progressiveness.

City staff members need about 40,000 square feet to work efficiently, said Richard Moorhead, of Image Group Architecture and Interiors. Moorhead is consulting on the site selection.

The new building is expected to be between 60,000 and 70,000 square feet, Furness said.

City officials have wanted a new building for at least a decade. The current two-story building has a nearly 60-year-old infrastructure that could cost more than $1 million to replace, or about $36 per square foot, according to a 2008 study by Image Group. Mechanical costs for a new building at the time were only $21 per square foot.

Furness said he was embarrassed to bring people into the old mayor’s office.

“It was a pretty seedy place,” he said.

The city added a new mayor’s office and commission chambers in a $5.1 million expansion that opened in 2006, but it was seen as a temporary fix.

Several potential sites were brainstormed Thursday: a parcel across from the Ground Transportation Center that houses Romantix adult bookstore at 417 NP Ave., the old Union Storage building at 1026 NP Ave., and reusing the current riverside space.

“The goal, at least for a few of us, is to stay downtown,” Walaker said. The Renaissance Zone has brought “absolute wonderment” to the area, he said.

City Administrator Pat Zavoral said the committee should vet “every area of the community” in order to make City Hall accessible to the entire city, which has stretched much farther west and south since the 1950s.

Committee member Joe Burgum said he believed people would not feel inclined to “pop in” if City Hall were far from of the downtown area.

“It needs to be a space that invites people to have it be a public forum versus calling it a ‘public forum’ and having no one use it,” Burgum said.

Keeping city offices downtown by renovating the Civic Center or Centennial Hall is a possibility, Zavoral said. Mechanically redoing both structures would cost $2.4 million, according to the 2008 Image Group study.

Wherever the building is eventually placed, it has to be the “emotional center” of the community, said Linda Boyd, a School Board member and former city commissioner.

Committee members brainstormed what they want to see in a City Hall, a list that included the words flexible, accessible, enduring, beautiful and functional. Those criteria will be used to help pick a new site, Moorhead said.

Commissioner Melissa Sobolik, an ex-officio member of the committee along with the other commissioners and several city staff members, said she would be happy to look into starting a social media campaign to get more community input.

The committee will meet again Thursday.

When a site is picked, it will take about 45 days to select an architect, Zavoral said. With seven to nine months for project design, it could be bid for construction by late fall of 2014, he said.

Construction would take 12 to 16 months, he said.

Walaker said Thursday a funding mechanism for the project will be decided at a later date.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518