| By Barry Amundson |
This article originally appeared on InForum. The featured photo is by Dan Francis Photography.
Lauren Zima had been looking for a while for a location for her “The Nines” clothing store in Fargo. Many locations simply didn’t work out. Then one day she and her husband, Steve, were driving downtown when they saw the “Block Nine” building with its connection in name to their store.
Not only that but she said the once open retail store space where her store is now is where she went into labor during the Fargo Street Fair nine years ago.
“I guess it was meant to be,” she said about the signs pointing to that spot on the northwest corner of what is now called the RDO Building with its many other amenities.
Things couldn’t have worked out better, she said, as her business has simply been “amazing” since opening last November. “We didn’t know what to expect,” she said.
The store offers clothing for daughters, mothers and grandmothers and is her second store as she also has been operating a similar store in Detroit Lakes for the past nine years. She said part of the reason for her store’s success is everything that’s going on in that area of downtown. She said her neighbors, including the restaurants, ice cream shops and boutiques are “a nice mix” that help draw people. Zima knows of many people from the lakes area who drive to Fargo for a “downtown day.” “It wasn’t always that way,” she said.
That’s just one story about how what was the US Bank’s surface parking lot for 45 years has turned into a bustling, prosperous site in the midst of downtown after the $117 million RDO building opened with all of its amenities and auxiliary businesses.
The second tallest structure in the state – behind only the state Capitol – stands 18 stories or 235 feet and is also home to the upscale Jasper Hotel, the Rosewild restaurant and condos on the upper floors.
The retail space is soon going to be full in the building with the addition of the Salt Hill Gallery, a showroom and retail space focused on offering a highly curated collection of art and jewelry as well as a selection of original art and fine gifts.
Owner and curator Taylor Mertz said the process of selecting a space for the gallery was long but worth the wait “Of significant importance to us was to join the downtown business community,” Mertz said. “We value the vibrancy of the downtown community, the events and public gathering space at Broadway Square, and the proximity to other businesses within the building. We are pleased to have a local audience and also look forward to welcoming travelers from Jasper Hotel.”
It’s not the only business that has decided to join the vibrant vibe of that area. Brad Cimaglio, owner of Black Coffee and Waffle Bar across the street from Broadway Square, said the civic plaza in particular was a big impetus to the location they chose. “The RDO building is great, but the square is the big thing for us, ” he said. “Community gathering spaces are vital for any city, and having that space right in the heart of downtown benefits everyone.”
Joel Wold, owner of the Bottle Barn that is expanding operations by opening a new liquor store in the soon-to-open Kesler building just down the block, said the RDO Building and Broadway Square was “100%” a factor in his decision to add a store downtown. “Once we saw all the additional foot traffic downtown, we were ready to expand,” he wrote in an email. “If you look at the calendar of events for Broadway Square, there is something scheduled six days a week in the summer. Some days multiple events, yoga, Zumba, movies, live music, splash pad, etc…
“Red River Market is a big one, too. They estimate 10,000 people every Saturday for the market alone,” he wrote. “With all of this activity, and more and more business and residents moving in, I was convinced of the need for an off-sale only store there.”
The $4 million Broadway Square, paid for by the Block 9 Partnership which includes the worldwide RDO company and the Kilbourne Group, is a 17,000- square-foot plaza for public use. The land was purchased from US Bank, which had that surface parking lot on the site for those 45 years.
Ana Rusness-Peterson, plaza manager at the square, said they had 350,000 unique visitors to the plaza last year. That number will likely increase dramatically this year. Similar to last year, they have 270 days of events planned this year, with some of the more popular being musical concerts, movies, chalk art events and fitness programs. She said rentals of the site have increased this year.
One big fan of the plaza is Adrienne Olson, the communications vice president for The Kilbourne Group. “You know what my favorite part of the Square is?,” she said. “Not the event days. It’s that every single day people just hang out there. Kids play, people sit and chat, teens bring their boba teas and ice cream and hang out. Have we ever had a place like that before in this town?”
Olson also is noticing the influx of workers, especially the 375 new RDO employees who have moved providing another boost to downtown. She said the employees are eating at restaurants and visiting shops and are “a huge boost to the downtown economy:” Olson, who helps with a lot of research on issues affecting the downtown, said a study done by the International Council of Shopping Centers found 62% of office workers shop during the workday.
The average office worker spends $96 per week and, on average, eats lunch outside of their office three out of five days, the study found. Thus, she said as the RDO Tower adds employees they would support around 15,000 square feet of retail and restaurant development.
Tara May, vice president of communications for RDO, said there is plenty of room for their employee team to grow in what they call the RDO Tower. Thus, more businesses and people roaming the streets of downtown lie ahead, according to Olson. For now, the two-year-old RDO Building is living up to its expectations.
Just ask the occupants and neighbors.