Erik Burgess, Published March 15 2014
FAA questions height of downtown Fargo skyscraper
Kilbourne Group, the downtown development firm headed by former software magnate Doug Burgum, is proposing a mixed-use tower on the northwest corner of the U.S. Bank Plaza on Broadway between Second and Third Avenues.
But a recent opinion from the FAA determined that a 312-foot-tall building at that location would be a “presumed hazard” to air traffic, said Brian Schuck, a program manager for the FAA’s Bismarck Airports District Office.
“In other words, initial study on it indicated that it would be a hazard to navigation for the airport,” Schuck said. “That doesn’t mean it is (a hazard). It means it needs further work.”
Kilbourne Group General Manager Mike Allmendinger said the tower, which at one time had the working moniker of “Dakota Place,” is still very early in its development stages, and that Kilbourne Group is still going through its due diligence.
He said the project has “so many unknowns” right now, including the building’s height. He did say, though, that it would definitely be less than 300 feet.
“But who knows where it’s at under there?” Allmendinger said. “It depends on who’s interested in leasing office space.”
Even if the FAA determines that a building could be hazardous to air navigation, it would be up to the city to use that information when a decision is made on a building permit, Schuck said.
“The FAA doesn’t have a lot of ability to prevent construction,” he said. “That winds up being a zoning issue for the city. The airport has zoning in place, so if there is a presumed hazard, the city has the ability to stop that construction.”
Burgum told The Forum last year of his concept for a 352-foot tower on U.S. Bank Plaza, complete with a parking ramp, retail space, office space, a hotel, apartments, condos, and a restaurant and lounge on the top floor.
Towering above the 241-foot, 8-inch state Capitol in Bismarck, it would have been the tallest building in the state.
The Antelope Valley Station north of Beulah is sometimes referred to as the state’s tallest building, but the 361-foot structure is an industrial tower and doesn’t quite compare with an occupied office tower such as the Capitol or the Kilbourne project, said Curt Pearson, a spokesman for Basin Electric Power Cooperative.
Allmendinger said that while the building’s height has changed, the mixed-use concept remains. He said the height of the building has nothing to do with the FAA, but rather is because of “market demand.”
“It’s more about what is the market for a project like this in Fargo-Moorhead,” he said.
In November, the FAA issued another opinion on a Kilbourne project at U.S. Bank Plaza, but the project was listed as only being 52 feet tall. The FAA said if the project was any taller than 52 feet, there would be a “determination of hazard to air navigation.”
Allmendinger said he is confident the building can be taller than 52 feet. The nearby Radisson Hotel, the tallest building in Fargo, is 207 feet tall.
“There’s buildings all over downtown that are higher than 52 feet,” he said. “I don’t want to say it’s a non-issue, but there’s a process to go through.”
The FAA reviews proposed projects as they relate to air routes into and out of an airport for potential obstructions, said Elizabeth Cory, an FAA spokeswoman.
For instance, the FAA must be notified about any construction or alteration exceeding 200 feet above ground level.
“It’s not like we’re trying to cause controversy,” Allmendinger said. “We want to follow the process that’s in place for the city for permitting and that’s what we’re doing. That’s all part of our due diligence process.”
Jim Gilmour, Fargo’s planning director, said zoning in the downtown district has no height restrictions, but Hector International Airport has a zoning overlay that covers the entire city. That could come into play with Kilbourne Group’s proposed building.
“I don’t deal with skyscrapers every day,” Gilmour joked.
The Hector overlay is intended to reduce air navigation hazards, he said. Any possible height restrictions would be one of many factors reviewed if and when the developers ask for a building permit, Gilmour said.
“Until they have tenants and prices and financing, we don’t really know whether it’s going to happen or not,” Gilmour said. “I hope something happens. … It’s going to be a benefit to the downtown whether it’s 300 feet or 100 feet.”
The city is also still interested in being a partner in a parking ramp in the tower, he said.
Kilbourne Group is still in talks with potential tenants for the tower, Allmendinger said.
He said the group is months away from even estimating when construction could begin.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518