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Erik Burgess, Published February 05 2014

Committee goes with simpler Fargo City Hall design, but they still get their glass atrium

FARGO – The committee tasked with picking the design of the new City Hall has narrowed it down to a final design concept.

And yes, it includes the “swoosh” curve that intrigued so many committee members at a previous meeting.

But even as architects hone in on a final design, big issues still remain for the building committee, the biggest of them perhaps being parking.

When construction begins on the new building and the Second Street flood wall later this year, the city is going to lose around 300 spots in its 450-stall Civic Center parking lot.

“Parking is the most dynamic thing about this,” architect Terry Stroh said. “We’re taking away a lot and we’re trying to get back as much as we can. And none of them are really simple solutions. They’re all complicated.”

With the two design concepts shown Wednesday morning, there were three potential places to park. A lot on the north side of the building, which could have two levels of parking, each with about 40 to 50 stalls.

There would be one level of parking underneath City Hall, with about 70 to 80 stalls total. Finally, there would be a smaller parking lot on the south side of the building with about 30 to 40 stalls.

Some committee members were concerned about preserving green space on the south side of the building and keeping it pedestrian friendly.

Stroh said the south side, where the main entrance would be, needs to have some surface-level parking because it’d be near the City Commission chambers and would be ideal for short-term parking.

The committee on Wednesday went back and forth between two building design options. Members generally agreed that the second concept, with the four-story, swooping glass atrium, felt more “iconic.”

That design split the city offices between a four-story office building on the west side of the atrium and a two-story office building on the east.

In the drawings for Option 2, the atrium towered over the two-story office building like a ballpark grandstand, and “Fargo City Hall” was written across the atrium in big letters facing the river.

But after about two hours of discussion, the committee eventually leaned toward Option 1, with a simpler three-story building and glass atrium.

Committee members further debated whether the atrium on Option 1 should be on the east side – facing the river – or west side, facing the Civic Center.

City Commissioner Brad Wimmer said he was afraid that putting City Hall offices toward the river might make it seem to the public like the city was building riverfront “condos” for itself.

“I like this with the atrium on the east side better,” he said. “I’m just envisioning it from Moorhead. I’m envisioning it from Second Street.”

City Administrator Pat Zavoral said he liked the atrium on the west side.

“Then more offices get more daylight,” he said.

Stroh said Option 2, with two separate buildings and a taller atrium, would be more complicated and more expensive.

“Usually the more complicated, the more iconic they’re going to be,” he said.

But he said Option 1 could still be made into an iconic building, and architects can now work at making that happen.

“We all like number 2, but realistically I think we’re going to be in better shape with 1 from a finance standpoint,” Stroh said.

The city is budgeting around $15 million for the new building. Architects will now hone Option 1 and bring it back for further discussion.

Design for the building should be completed by June or July. Construction would then take until about November 2015.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518