Since 2006, Kilbourne Group has been on a mission to revitalize downtown Fargo, North Dakota. The vertically integrated development company has redeveloped historic buildings and transformed infill parking lots into mixed-use communities full of character.
The group was founded by now Governor and philanthropist Doug Burgum, whose vision was to reinvest in Fargo’s historic buildings at risk of demolition. For nearly a decade, Kilbourne Group redeveloped existing buildings, creating a blend of retail, office and residential properties that brought life back to the downtown core.
“When Kilbourne Group got started, it was really to create vibrancy in downtown Fargo,” says Mike Allmendinger, President of Kilbourne Group. “We have a saying [that’s], ‘Vibrant neighborhoods create smart, healthy cities.’”
Now, the company has shifted its focus to developing new buildings on the city’s plentiful surface parking lots. This strategy is helping to move Fargo from a car-dependent area to a walkable, pedestrian-friendly community. Its goal is to replace every surface parking lot in downtown Fargo with a building or green space—an effort that Allmendinger says will require another 10–20-year redevelopment strategy.
Fargo is home to businesses from many of the region’s economic drivers, particularly technology and entrepreneurship. The city has also fostered a strong boutique retail presence, with lots of locally owned stores and food and beverage destinations. Kilbourne Group’s recent mixed-use developments have created space for some of these businesses downtown.
The Mercantile development, which opened in April 2022, combines 100 apartment units, nine for-sale condos and 17,000 square feet of commercial space that can house five to seven businesses. The project was a joint venture with Tom and Kari Smith and the City of Fargo, the latter of which leased commercial space for a satellite police station and built a 367-unit district parking garage on the property.
Similarly, Kilbourne Group opened Kesler last July, which hosts 109 residential units and 9,000 square feet of commercial space. And, at The Landing at 1001 NP, Kilbourne Group opened 154 units and 5,000 square feet of commercial space along with a 217-space garage last summer. All three developments were ground-up, infill construction on former surface lots.
Serving as its own construction manager, Kilbourne Group has taken the lead on helping local subcontractors adjust to downtown construction environments. The company has built a list of partners that align with its vision for downtown Fargo and helped them embrace the change.
“What we find here is that we have had to spend quite a bit of time continuing to work with subcontractors for them to really establish their processes to build in a downtown environment. I
think that’s what’s unique about most of the subcontractors we work [with],” Allmendinger says. “Ten years ago, they just didn’t have the systems and processes to work on a what I would call a just-in-time delivery for our projects. An example is, if you’re working out in the new subdivision, you have a lot of land where you can store equipment. Everyone brings their job shack trailer, everyone brings their storage. It’s a different sequencing of the project. In downtown, you don’t have that flexibility. There are certain subcontractors that have really embraced that.”
Kilbourne Group’s dedication to teamwork and its vision is already paying off. The team has seen tremendous progress downtown.
“Ten years ago, we started from zero. Many hours of the day, there would be zero people on the sidewalks in downtown Fargo….” Allmendinger says. “There were people down here and businesses and people living, but there were many times when you would look up and down the sidewalk and not see one person in downtown Fargo. Now, there’s never a minute when you don’t see somebody on our sidewalks.”
Kilbourne Group is greatly encouraged by the progress they’ve realized in Fargo’s revitalization, but there’s still lots of room to grow. The company is turning its focus to more multifamily construction to increase the population downtown.
“We have an awesome investment opportunity in downtown Fargo. And we’re building at the right pace. We’re not over-supplying, but we are competing with projects…investors are looking at in large markets—Sunbelt, Southwest, East Coast, West Coast,” Allmendinger says. “We’re this Midwest developer that is hustling to try to get attention to attract capital to Fargo.”
Its upcoming RiverHouse development will be the first multifamily along the Red River in recent history. The property will sit on the banks of the Red River and host 115 residential units. Kilbourne Group expects to open RiverHouse in fall 2024.
Another property, currently referred to as the NP Project, will deliver a further 145 apartments and ground-floor retail alongside a 480-space, City-owned parking garage and a new home for the Fargo Moorhead Community Theatre. According to Allmendinger, this creative mix of uses is indicative of the tremendous potential that Fargo holds for future development.
“In a market like Fargo and in our downtown, to have the scale of the buildings occupied, we need to have multiple uses, and that takes a lot of creativity and partnerships to come together….” he says. “This is an example where there’s so much potential in downtown Fargo, so we spend a lot of our time talking to investors about these projects. We’re always striving to have really strong projects to present to investors.”
This article originally appeared in the DDC Journal’s Spring 2023 issue. The featured image is a rendering of the NP Avenue project by ESG Architects.