650 NP Ave N, Fargo, ND
On October 31, 1997, Northern School Supply closed after 86 years in business. It was bought by School Specialty, Inc. of Appleton, Wisconsin, which subsequently closed Northern School Supply’s retail store at 17 8th St. N. in downtown Fargo.
School Specialty kept the building vacant for two years before announcing in 2000 that it intended to demolish the historic four-story, 52,000-square-foot building, citing a host of obstacles. The proximity of the building to the noise of the Northern Pacific railroad, the need for several million dollars in renovations, and the fact that the land beneath the building was owned by the Burlington Northern railroad all combined to make it unattractive to buyers. The company offered to donate the building to the city of Fargo, but the offer was declined.
In an attempt to forestall demolition, the City of Fargo paid several months’ rent on the building to save it. In August 2000, Kilbourne Group founder Doug Burgum opted for a more permanent strategy and purchased the building.
The 100-year old structure, originally built as a farm implement warehouse and dealership, was in serious disrepair. The only remaining occupants included many pigeons and an unnamed raccoon, and the building had environmental issues and asbestos. Doug proceeded to stabilize the structure by installing a new roof, demolishing unsightly annexes, undertaking asbestos and environmental remediation, purchasing the land underneath, and overcoming a battle with a defunct 100-year-old boiler.
Once the beautiful brick and timber frame structure had been saved, Doug began the search for a new purpose for it. At the time, there was little demand for housing, commercial space, or retail space in downtown Fargo. By working with North Dakota State University, the NDSU Foundation, and the City of Fargo, a new use for the building began to take shape. NDSU architect students and NDSU Professor of Architecture Ron Ramsey began creating ideas and models that envisioned the repurposing of the Northern School Supply building to house NDSU visual arts department, major components of the architecture and landscape architecture department, and the Tri-College University office.
Now an ultra-modern, green facility aptly named Renaissance Hall, it includes everything the students envisioned along with studios, classrooms, a wood shop, computer labs, a gallery, and an outdoor sculpture area.