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Success of Rapid City’s public square inspires Fargo Block 9 plaza

Reposted from The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, March 16, 2017.
By Tu-Uyen Tran

FARGO — With more than 600,000 visitors each year, Main Street Square in Rapid City, S.D., is an attractive model for developers of the public plaza that’s part of the Block 9 highrise coming to downtown Fargo.

When Keith Leier, a project manager with development firm Kilbourne Group, mentioned that 600,000 number at a presentation to downtown business leaders Thursday, March 16, someone remarked in awe that it was about the population of North Dakota.

“When you think of the excitement, when you think of the energy this thing can generate at bringing people downtown,” Leier told the Downtown Community Partnership. “That’s the goal and that’s the vision for this plaza.”

The Kilbourne Group is using Main Street Square not just as a model for the construction of Block 9 plaza, but also its operations, hoping to replicate Rapid City’s success here. Recently, the developer partnered with the Fargo Park District to hire the nonprofit group that runs the South Dakota square as consultants for $12,000, with each paying half.

The developer, which will retain ownership of the plaza, is asking the district to be the day-to-day manager.

Joel Vettel, Fargo Park District executive director, said he’s started working on an agreement that would spell out the district’s role for consideration by the Park Board.

Block 9 plaza would be northeast of the corner of Broadway and Second Avenue North, where U.S. Bank Plaza is now. The Kilbourne Group plans to install artificial turf that converts into an ice-rink in the winter, water features, lights, public art and an amphitheater. A public bathroom is being discussed.

Main Street Square, like the plaza, is in the heart of downtown in a mid-sized Midwestern city, according to Leier. The square, which opened in 2011, hosts more than 200 events each year. Some of the most popular are summer concerts that attract more than 10,000 each night, outdoor movies that attract more than 800 and a skating rink that attracts more than 16,000 each winter.

A survey found that more than 80 percent of visitors to the square are from the area and not tourists, he said.

Leier said Main Street Square, the nonprofit group that runs the square, boasted that there are no vacancies in downtown Rapid City and that businesses there are so busy they’ve expanded their hours and days.

He mentioned several lessons already learned from the group. For example, Main Street Square deliberately ends most events by 9 p.m. to leave enough time for visitors to patronize downtown businesses. The group allows alcohol sales at events to help fund its activities.

Vettel said the Park District is getting tips from Main Street Square on how to budget and staff the plaza; he noted that this is for operations, not construction.

Leier said the Fargo plaza is scheduled to be completed in summer 2019.

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