| By Helmut Schmidt & Sam Goetzinger |
This article originally appeared on InForum.
A plan to build a city parking ramp as part of a theater and apartment complex on Northern Pacific Avenue got a warm reception from city commissioners during a noonhour briefing session Wednesday, Oct. 12.
However, commissioners want to see city staff firm up the financing for the 480-spot ramp, projected to cost about $20 million.
The ramp is a key part of a roughly $66 million, six-story complex to be built on two parking lots on the 600 Block of NP Avenue. Developer Kilbourne Group is partnering with the city, Global Development and Fargo Moorhead Community Theatre on the project.
FMCT plans to build a new theater home in the complex and has taken a significant ownership stake. The organization is fundraising $10.5 million for the theater, plus $2 million for an endowment.
“We’ve got a lot of parking on the north side (of downtown), I think we have to look at the south side on Broadway and see what we can do. And this is the next part of Broadway I think we have to start looking at,” Mayor Tim Mahoney said.
Bell Bank is renovating the former Bank of the West building as its new headquarters along Main Avenue. Another development is planned for 501 Main, Mahoney said. The project is a good solution for FMCT, “and we need more parking.”
The ramp financing plan calls for the city to issue $16 million in bonds. Some money would also come from the parking fund and parking fine revenues, said Jim Gilmour, Fargo’s director of strategic planning and research.
The city also plans to expand the Civic Center ramp next to the Radisson Blu hotel, adding 69 spaces using tax increment financing for the riverfront area. The additional parking revenues would be directed toward building the new ramp, Gilmour said.
A new tax increment financing district would also be created for the area, which would not only help fund the NP project but assist with other nearby projects, he said.
Still, the project is $3.5 million short of being fully funded, he said.
Gilmour will have to rework the financing, “and we’ll see how it all works, and we’ll try to figure it out,” Mahoney said.
Commissioner Arlette Preston supports the project if the financing can be solidified.
“Where the dollars are going to come from — from the city side for the parking ramp — is the big question,” she said.
She doesn’t like the idea of transferring money from the riverfront TIF district to support the ramp on NP.
“We’ve got to have a discussion about that as well, because … there was priorities identified with that (riverfront) TIF, as well,” Preston said. “That conversation needs to happen.”
Commissioner Denise Kolpack called the partnership exciting.
“I think there’s some real innovation that’s included in the way this thing was thought through” in the financing, said Kolpack, who also praised the nonprofit FMCT for making a multimillion-dollar commitment to the project.
“Assuming the numbers come back and there’s a clear understanding of who’s going to own what and what the financing model is going to be, I absolutely support this,” she said.
FMCT Executive Director Judy Lewis said the theater will bring people to the downtown area year-round, but it needs the parking ramp to work.
“If we don’t get this building, if we don’t get this opportunity, we’re going to have to leave downtown,” she said.
FMCT plans to build a 420-seat theater with a thrust stage. There will also be three large classrooms, tripling the available space for teaching, Lewis said. In 2019, the theater was forced from its former Island Park location when wooden beams supporting the building failed.
Commissioner Dave Piepkorn called the potential economic impact of having FMCT downtown “awesome.”
He said a parking ramp in that spot would also spur development on surrounding blocks, much as other city-built lots have done in recent years.
Piepkorn added that the courtyards between North Dakota State University’s Renaissance Hall and the theater will be a creative place.
“For outdoor art, I think that’s going to be a very appealing place. So, I think the whole area can be really upgraded a lot. To me, it’s very exciting,” he said.
The apartment piece of the project will have about 145 studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom units, with a projected cost of $35-40 million, said Keith Leier, vice president of development and construction for Kilbourne Group. There will also be about 2,200 square feet of retail space.
The market rate apartments would rent from about $990 for a studio to $2,600 for a three-bedroom, he said.
Groundbreaking for the project is set for June 2023, if all goes well, with the apartments opening in late 2025. The parking ramp could be open in mid-summer 2024, Leier said.
The theater should be open by the end of 2025, Lewis said.
Gilmour said an agreement for a public-private partnership with Kilbourne Group on the project will probably be brought to the Fargo City Commission for approval at its Oct. 31 meeting.