Developers outline future of Fargo-Moorhead
March 1, 2022
Roers CEO Jim Roers, McKenzy Braaten of EPIC Companies, and Mike Allmendinger of Kilbourne Group discussed the long-term future of development in the metro area, upcoming projects, and possibilities for a new convention center.
Prominent developers from the Fargo-Moorhead area shared optimism that the metro region still has 40 to 50 years of growth potential, a figure first suggested by Fargo City Commissioner Arlette Preston.
Roers CEO Jim Roers, as well as McKenzy Braaten, vice president of communication for EPIC Companies, and Mike Allmendinger, president of Kilbourne Group, all expected it would be decades until the metro area tapped out the available land within the Fargo-Moorhead Diversion. The three were assembled Tuesday, March 1, at the Courtyard by Marriott to discuss metro development in an event hosted by the Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber of Commerce.
When asked towards the end of the session whether the metro area is running out of space, the three all agreed that the answer was no. “I don’t think we’re out of development space,” Roers said. “I think we’ve got 40 to 50 years of potential.”
Braaten added that there are several areas real estate developers can eye for growth, saying there isn’t a time limit she could put on it. Allmendinger suggested that after exhausting all available land, the redevelopment will take place in existing areas of the city.
The diversion has prompted several questions among the development community regarding the future of the metro area. One such question is the ramifications of the boundaries the diversion will set on the region. The diversion consists of a 30-mile channel to redirect the Red River in extreme floods. As a result, the project sets a line of demarcation for future real estate projects in the region.
Evaluating the diversion, Roers reflected on efforts to put in flood diversion for West Fargo in the 1970s. “We got a diversion put through West Fargo that literally changed the dynamic of all the development in the western part of West Fargo,” he said. “It provided not only protection, but it provided boundaries. You could just see how builders and developers wanted to engage in the western part of our city as a result of that diversion.”
He expected the metro-wide diversion project would have a similar effect on shaping real estate development. “We’re going to have the same type of thing happen because the outer perimeters of our development potential are defined,” Roers continued. “Everything inside that protected area is going to become a target of development in a much more aggressive fashion because we have certainty.”
Asked where future developments will go now that the boundary has been set, Roers, Braaten and Allmendinger answered with “all of the above.”
That means developers will be looking in all compass directions as well as to the sky for future projects. “Between now and then, you’re going to see a transfer of desires from going horizontal to going vertical,” Roers said. “All of our developments are going to want to go more vertical because land is now a finite area.”
Going vertical, Braaten explained, means re-evaluating the scope of mixed-use buildings to include even more elements in a small area. While mixed-use buildings had generally been thought of as apartments and commercial spaces, Braaten said EPIC has sought to make them more all-encompassing by adding in condos, entertainment amenities, and even hotels. “We’re really trying to think outside the box,” she said. “I think there’s going to be a lot more innovative and creative ways in which you’ll find what mixed-use is.”
A look ahead
The trio of developers also offered insight Tuesday into future projects in the works for their companies.
Allmendinger reported the Kilbourne Group’s Kesler Building is set to open July 1. The Kesler Building is a $20 million project which will bring 109 apartments and up to seven business spaces downtown. It replaces a surface parking lot that had been on the site for over 30 years and was not being utilized.
The Kesler Building, Allmendinger said, is the third and final piece of a three-building development which includes Roberts Commons and The Dillard, both located across the street. “The amount of energy and activity that is now in this one-and-a-half block area is just tremendous compared to what was there before,” Allmendinger said.
Roberts Commons and the Roberts Alley are home to several businesses that have become fixtures downtown. “Just think of what downtown Fargo would be if we didn’t have Beer and Fish Co., Scoop N Dough, Youngblood Coffee and 46 North,” he remarked. “Those are all businesses that are part of this redevelopment and they’re great, thriving businesses downtown.”
EPIC Companies landed a marquee project a few weeks ago when the Fargo City Commission voted 4-1 to sell them the land at 1 2nd St. S.
The project, called UNITE by EPIC, will include 30 condominiums and 37 apartments. Braaten said it’s part of the company’s plans to add as much as possible to mixed-use buildings. “We want to have a variety of living styles, whether that’s workforce housing with the apartments and condo living as well,” she said.
EPIC purchased the land, a highly-visible area when traveling across the Red River, for $1.188 million from the city. The seven-story UNITE project is set to check in at a cost of $28 million.
Also included will be a park and plaza space, not unlike Broadway Square, Braaten commented Tuesday. There will be underground parking as well as indoor and outdoor event spaces.
The next steps for UNITE, Braaten noted, will be finalizing agreements and working to secure a Renaissance Zone incentive.
Roers also commented on the future of the Moorhead Center Mall, which his firm is working with the city to repurpose. Crediting the Kilbourne Group, he said the objective is to “transfer the energy” that’s been created in downtown Fargo over to Moorhead.
Still, he said Moorhead residents “want their own identity” and don’t want to copy downtown Fargo. “We’re working very hard to create that vision of a new downtown that is totally different than the experience you have on that side of the river,” he said.
Work on redeveloping the mall and Moorhead’s downtown is “in the very early stages,” he said, though he noted updates would be coming within the next two months.
An audience question Tuesday prompted discussion regarding a possible new convention center in Fargo.
Allmendinger remarked that there are several locations in downtown Fargo that could house a convention center, but those are only a portion of possible sites. “This has been an ongoing discussion for a long time,” he said. “I think there are multiple answers. I’ve heard a Fargodome addition, I’ve heard West Acres area, I’ve heard south Fargo, I’ve heard downtown Fargo.”
Allmendinger said the best spot for a potential convention center would be a place that best showcases the city. “When we have guests come to Fargo, I think it’s very important to bring them to an area that has high energy, high activity and shows the best of our city,” he remarked. “Downtown Fargo does a great job of that,” he continued, adding that other locations would be suitable but would require more work to give a “great impression” to visitors.
While Braaten agreed that downtown “would be a great option,” she said EPIC would prefer to see it more centrally located. Suggesting areas in West Fargo or south of Interstate 94, she said a site that can be “something that can be beneficial and impact the whole area” should be chosen. “I think there is not necessarily a wrong spot for it, but I think there are definitely better spots,” she said.
Regardless, Braaten said a convention center is sorely needed to bring Fargo up to speed with competing cities like Omaha and Lincoln in Nebraska, Sioux Falls, and even Bismarck. “If there are areas that we can work on to get a convention space, I think we’re going in the right direction because we really do need one,” she remarked.
Roers agreed that developers shouldn’t fight over the location of the convention center, rather the focus should be on getting one built. That said, Roers suggested Moorhead had the best site for it, facetiously noting his contract with the city. “I feel the city of Moorhead has the best spot for this convention center,” he said.