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Published September 21 2013

Forum editorial: Don’t go cheap on City Hall

Now that it looks like a new Fargo City Hall will be built somewhere on the four blocks of the current civic complex downtown, the next steps are building concept and design. City commissioners should shoot high.

The new City Hall should be more than a utilitarian office building. Certainly utility is important: The building must house the functions and meet the space requirements of a growing city. But if utility is the only consideration, the city could build a bunker-like cement block nonentity. It will work, but that’s about all.

Cost is a factor. But again, a new City Hall should be seen as a long-term investment. A new building should be built to last 100 years or more, not the 20- to 50-year lifespan that seems to be the rule in public building architecture these days. Spend a little more, do it right, and the city will have a municipal center that will not fall apart in 40 years, as the current City Hall has done.

Architectural style is vital. Fargo should build an edifice, not just a building. It should make a statement about the city’s rich history, its vibrant present and the promise of a bright future. City Hall should be the central symbol of Fargo’s well-managed growth, diverse economic base, cultural life and unique riverside setting. That means a City Hall that incorporates not only great architecture but also public art and a pedestrian-friendly environment in a redesigned urban plaza.

Critics of a new City Hall are wrong on all fronts. First, they say Fargo does not need a new City Hall. Not so. Just take a stroll through the old building. It’s a crowded mess and a mechanical disaster waiting to happen. Trying to fix it would be irresponsible spending.

Second, the city does not need to build a Taj Mahal, critics opine. Of course not. The Taj was built by an Indian royal for his favorite wife. The comparison is bogus hyperbole. Fargo’s City Hall will be built to serve the residents of the city for generations to come.

That last point often is lost on opponents of progress. They reliably lack the vision to see beyond the next budget cycle or their next tax statement. If such backward thinking prevailed in Fargo, there would be no spectacularly successful Fargodome, and no one-of-a-kind beautifully designed Veterans Bridge over the Red River. There would be no renaissance zone rebirth downtown. There would be no North Dakota State University downtown campus.

The city’s mandate for a new city hall should be clear: Do it right. Don’t go cheap. Don’t cut corners. Build a building not just for today but for Fargo’s next century of progress. Make it an attractive, lasting structure that not only houses the city’s offices but also reflects Fargo’s cultural values, economic vitality and progressive thinking.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.