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Doug Burgum, Fargo, Published September 14 2013

Letter: Success of core raises metro’s sights higher

On Sunday, Sept. 8, The Forum ran a front-page story on proposed downtown Fargo improvements, including a proposed concept for a Kilbourne Group-led project – the Block 9 tower – which would be located on an existing surface parking lot on Broadway, north of the US Bank Plaza.

The aspirational vision for this mixed-use tower includes retail, a hotel with meeting room/event amenities, office space, residential condos, a restaurant/bar, underground parking, public lobby escalators to the skyway system, all adjacent to a rebuilt, city-owned public parking ramp and a re-envisioned public plaza at the corner of Broadway and Second Avenue.

Broad dialogue

This significant project is intentional in its efforts to kindle a broad dialogue about thoughtful design, the positive economics of density, and the importance of a vibrant, walkable core to the economic health of the metro area.

Much work remains to bring this vision to reality, and Kilbourne Group welcomes input, ideas and concerns.

We are fortunate to live in a state with a strong economy and in a city with progressive leadership. Now is the time to set our sights high and lay the foundation for the next century.

Reporter Erik Burgess’ story was thorough and expansive in its scope, as he covered several complex, multifaceted projects – some publicly funded, some privately funded – all in the same article.

Confusion

Based on follow-up coverage of the story, and based on feedback Kilbourne Group has received, there is confusion, particularly in the areas related to the use of public funds, and the floodplain, which we will attempt to clarify.

The Block 9 tower project would be located three blocks west of the envisioned civic quad and three blocks from the 100-year floodplain.

We emphasize that the public-private partnership regarding Block 9 relates to city-owned parking structures on city of Fargo-owned land. The Block 9 tower project would be funded from private investors.

Convergence

On the other hand, three separate and highly synergistic civic projects currently under public consideration include: 1) a new Fargo City Hall, 2) the Second Street flood protection project, and 3) downtown exhibition space/convention center (for example, a renovated and re-purposed Civic Center/Centennial Hall). Each of these three public projects can be independently funded with existing, available and previously allocated civic dollars.

The convergence of a) available funds, b) existing, available, city-owned land, c) flood protection, and d) the roughly parallel timing for these three civic projects, creates an unprecedented opportunity for our city to bring to life an exciting vision that has been proposed for several decades.

The Kilbourne Group does not seek credit for the core ideas, which we strongly support. The credit for this vision goes to those involved in multiple planning efforts across multiple organizations over several decades. Those processes were driven by dedicated civic employees, thoughtful citizen and volunteer input, and enlightened elected/ appointed leaders.

‘Infill’

Seizing the opportunity for an integrated set of multiple civic projects now will stimulate significant private investment in the downtown core in the near term. And private “infill” projects that utilize existing city infrastructure (e.g., streets, sewers, sidewalks, as well as fire/police protection) are more economic for all of us as taxpayers, versus the cost of stretching the city’s infrastructure and services by developing on the city’s edge.

Infill “mixed-use” projects (e.g., residential, office, retail, hospitality, etc.) create different parking and traffic needs at different times of the day; this alternating flow can significantly increase utilization, which dramatically improves the economics of infrastructure such as parking ramps.

North Dakota today, with its enviable lowest-in-the-country unemployment, faces workforce challenges. American cities that will thrive in the coming decades will be those that attract and retain workforces, especially young people, both college students and young professionals in all fields.

Tomorrow’s successful cities will have a strong, differentiated, unique urban core that builds upon, yet goes beyond, the same big-box retailers and franchise restaurants that exist across our country.

Raise sights

The Fargo metro area’s downtown core has accomplished a tremendous turnaround in the past decade. This progress can be credited to a broad group of entrepreneurs, investors, champions, businesses and institutions, such as highly impactful North Dakota State University’s move toward the core. Now, with both public and private projects on the horizon, we as a metro area can raise our sights even higher, as the success of the core benefits all.

And as we do raise our sights and seize the day, we will offer gratitude for the past, respect for the present and inspiration for the future.


Burgum is chairman of Kilbourne Group and chairman of Arthur Ventures.