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Downtown Fargo Champion Steps Down from Renaissance Zone Leadership Post

Downtown Fargo Champion Steps Down from Renaissance Zone Leadership Post

Dr. Roger Gilbertson
Photo by Dave Wallis for The Forum

As city leaders embark on creating the next 20-year strategic plan for our vibrant city center, Kilbourne Group tips its hat to Dr. Roger Gilbertson for his leadership over the last two decades.

Dr. Gilbertson was one of the original members of Fargo’s Renaissance Zone Authority (RZA). The Renaissance Zone was established by the North Dakota Legislature in 1999 which set the framework for tax exemptions designed to enhance economic growth and investment opportunities in downtown business districts in North Dakota. The Renaissance Zone is active in 58 cities across North Dakota.

In his Renaissance Zone leadership capacity, Dr. Gilbertson pushed for the development of the 2002 Framework Plan for Downtown and served on the Downtown Advisory Council for that plan. He has served as Chairman of the RZA since February of 2000 and is stepping down after 16 years.

During Dr. Gilbertson’s tenure as Chairman:

  • A total of 245 Renaissance Zone projects have been completed with improvements valued in excess of $125 Million.
  • Downtown property values have increased well over 200% since 1999 ($197 million to $600+ million) and at least a portion of this success is directly attributable to the Renaissance Zone program.
  • Gilbertson oversaw the creation of the original Renaissance Zone Development Plan in 1999 as well as the updated 2015 Renaissance Zone Development Plan which extended the RZ of the program for another 5 years in Fargo.
  • Gilbertson guided the RZA through five boundary changes, many a result of legislative changes which allowed Fargo to expand the boundary.

“Dr. Gilbertson, also known as Dr. Downtown, was the principal force behind organizing the Downtown Community Partnership,” said Mike Hahn, President/CEO of the Downtown Community Partnership. He’s one of the pioneers that led the revitalization process when many thought downtown was too far gone.

Dr. Gilbertson writes in his 2014 Chairman’s Message of the City of Fargo Renaissance Zone Plan:

Similar to many downtown environments in other municipalities across the country, Fargo’s downtown core suffered for many decades as a result of shifting demographic and cultural norms, as well as a myriad of other factors including failed urban renewal policies that eliminated important downtown urban infrastructure and the rise of suburban communities and suburban sprawl which was a product of interstate system construction and subsequent arterials that improved access to outlying strip malls and regional malls.

As a result, property values in the downtown core were unstable and investments in buildings and infrastructure were limited.

 Over the years, the Renaissance Zone program has been an instrumental tool in changing dynamics of the downtown core from a social, demographic, economic and urban form perspective. The Renaissance Zone program has without a doubt produced a significant ROI for the community.

Thank you, Dr. Gilbertson, for being a strong advocate and visionary for downtown Fargo, and for recognizing the importance of a functional downtown area.


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