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Erik Burgess, Published September 12 2013

Committee delays decision on site for new Fargo City Hall

FARGO – The committee charged with recommending a new City Hall site will likely make its choice next week after delaying a decision on Thursday.

The 13-member board, made up of residents who were appointed by city commissioners, received some rough technical and financial data on Thursday about the five sites still in the running.

Those sites are: repurposing the current Civic Center/City Hall area, the U.S. Bank Plaza on Broadway, the old Pierce Co. at the 1000 block of First Avenue North, the Mid-America Steel building at 92 NP Ave. and the Romantix block at the 400 block of NP Avenue across from the Ground Transportation Center.

Committee members appeared to lean toward repurposing and redeveloping the City Hall/Civic Center area, but several members were missing so committee co-chairman Bruce Furness said he felt uncomfortable conducting a vote.

The committee will meet again next Thursday and will likely pick a site then.

Architect Richard Moorhead, a consultant from Image Group Architecture and Interiors in Moorhead, has drawn up four options for developing the current City Hall site, with prices ranging from $10 million to $13.8 million. Prices don’t include parking, which could add $500,000 to $3.75 million to the cost.

The four options include attaching City Hall to the library with an extended skyway, gutting the Civic Center and placing the City Hall there, or placing the new building in the current city parking lot along Second Street.

Moorhead also included in his drawings ideas for what a possible Fargodome convention center could look like in conjunction with the City Hall.

“The City Hall site isn’t as attractive as we thought it might be because of the complexity of the issues,” Moorhead said, such as parking, a proposed floodwall and the possible convergence of a new City Hall and convention center.

The Mid-America Steel site is an unlikely choice, Moorhead said. It cuts deep into the city’s required 450-foot setback from the Red River, and even with a 100-foot waiver, the potential of the site is not fully realized.

“The amenity of being near the river is lost on that site” because of the setbacks, Moorhead said.

The committee also discussed eliminating the U.S. Bank Plaza because of The Kilbourne Group’s proposed mix-use tower on that site, although Moorhead said the two projects could work together. He floated the idea of locating City Hall in the tower.

Committee member Judy Gerhke said at one time she preferred the Pierce Co. site because of its accessibility, but Moorhead said parking would be a major issue because of the site’s small footprint.

Committee member John Gunkelman said he preferred the current civic quad site the most.

“But I think what’s going to happen here if this location is picked, the process might not happen as quickly as everybody would like … because I think all the amenities that are possibly proposed and how they all tie together probably need to be worked out at the same time,” Gunkelman said.

Committee member and state Sen. Tony Grindberg said it may take a combined meeting of the Fargo Dome Authority, the City Hall committee and others to make everything work if the committee choses the riverfront.

“The opportunity here is for us to create a next generational site for downtown and build on the success of the last decade,” Grindberg said. “I don’t know how you do that with just one vote here.”

City Administrator Pat Zavoral said of all the downtown projects, the Second Street floodwall is probably farthest along. The city expects to bid that out next fall.

The City Hall is next on the list, he said, with a “certain sense of urgency” because of infrastructure concerns in the current building, which was erected in the 1960s.

Zavoral said when a site is chosen, a building committee will be appointed by the City Commission to help design the structure. He hopes that committee can be created this fall.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518