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Dave Olson, Published September 18 2013

VIDEO: Loretta makeover a classy blend of old, new

FARGO – In the heart of the Loretta building at 210 Broadway in downtown Fargo hangs a large metal door.

Installed in the days before electricity was ubiquitous, still visible is the ingenious mechanism the door’s designer employed to use gravity to roll the massive barrier into place in times of fire.

The door is one of many echoes from the past in the Loretta, a structure that embraces old and new with equal enthusiasm.

That enthusiasm comes through clearly when Doug Burgum talks about the century old structure that is a crown jewel of a growing collection of historic Fargo buildings Burgum has had a role in saving or breathing fresh life into.

“Think of how optimistic he must have been about the history of downtown Fargo,” Burgum said, referring to Peter Elliott, the pioneering businessman whose early 20th Century dedication to craftsmanship and quality is to thank for the Loretta’s structural resilience.

Not that the edifice, built in two phases in 1909 and 1912, didn’t need lots of work.

Kilbourne Group, the downtown revitalization company Burgum leads, knew the challenges when it launched its major rehabilitation and expansion of the Loretta in 2010.

Still, there were surprises along the way. Soil tests showed adding a fourth floor to the building required replacing its foundation in some spots and reinforcing in others, not a small or inexpensive undertaking.

But even though it took a while, and about $10.3 million, for the Loretta to reach its grand opening celebration today, the time was worth it, according to Lee Dobrinz, project coordinator at JLG Architects, the lead architecture firm behind the Loretta’s makeover.

If the project’s timetable was atypical, it’s because “a different level of care and expectation” went into it, said Dobrinz, adding that the end product is largely reflective of Burgum’s involvement and his ability to visualize a future and “put some form to that vision.”

The results are appreciated, based on comments from tenants, which include retail, commercial and office-related enterprises.

“I am thrilled with everything about this building,” said Kimberly Hess, owner of Prairie Petals, which occupies a space the “front door” to which actually opens onto an alley behind the Loretta.

The setup couldn’t be better, Hess said.

Customers have zero trouble finding her shop and the alley makes deliveries that much easier, she said.

“The feel. The look. It’s been working great,” Hess said of the building’s design, which allows the public to move easily between various businesses and common spaces.

Rick Thoreson and Kelly Steffes operate a trust company that rents space in the building – including an outdoor terrace overlooking downtown Fargo.

“Clients love it,” Thoreson said.

“We like the mixture of old with new, which was the concept of the building,” Steffes said. “Everybody’s been genuinely impressed with it,” she added.

Part of the appeal, Thoreson said, is in the details, like the hardwood flooring reclaimed from a school in Hallock, Minn.

Flooring in a different area of the Loretta came from a school in Texas.

Colorful markings, remnants of the floor’s former life as a basketball court, were intentionally left alone, said Burgum, a firm believer that reusing buildings and materials makes sense, from both an economic and aesthetic standpoint.

Before the Loretta underwent its transformation, about 9,000 square feet of space was being used and the building housed maybe six retail employees. Today, 45,000 square feet of space is put to use and the structure shelters 97 employees and 16 businesses – including Kilbourne Group itself.

Kilbourne Group purchased the building for $900,000. The overall cost of improvements was $9.4 million, bringing total project costs to $10.3 million, or $214 a square foot.

All was accomplished with minimal infrastructure cost to the city, something Burgum refers to as the powerful economics of density.

“If we said, ‘Hey, we’re going to build this thing out on the edge (of the city),’ you gotta build a street, you gotta put in sewer and water and sidewalks,” Burgum said.

“All that chasing on the edge creates more cost that’s shared by everybody.

“Smaller footprints are more efficient, higher utilization is more efficient,” Burgum said.

If you go

What: Loretta Building’s grand opening

When: Today with a presentation by Doug Burgum from 2-3 p.m. at the Fargo Theatre and an open house and tours at the building from 3-6 p.m.

Where: 210 Broadway in Fargo

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555