Downtown Revitalization: Fargo, North Dakota

Metro Jacksonville takes a visit to successfully revitalized downtown that most Jaxsons know very little about: Fargo.

Published June 11, 2014 in Cities -

About Downtown Fargo

Named after William Fargo, Northern Pacific Railway director and Wells Fargo Express Company founder, the city was an early stopping point for Red River steamboats during the 1870s and 1880s. Downtown declined in the mid-20th century with the coming of two interstates and a large shopping mall to the Fargo area. However, Downtown Fargo would not be in decline for long.

In 1983, much of downtown became a part of the Downtown Fargo Historic District, enhancing the area's redevelopment potential. Over the past 15 years, more than 460 apartment units have been built in downtown Fargo. In addition, more than 250 have been improved or created through rehabilitation projects. Another 50 units are scheduled to come online in Summer 2014. According to a recent inforum article, rents for downtown apartments typically range from $650 to $775 for one-bedroom units and from $800 to $1,000 for two-bedroom units.

Much of this success is the result of the city's Renaissance Zone and other tax incentive programs. It also does not hurt that downtown benefits from nearby colleges, including North Dakota State University, University of Minnesota Moorhead, and Concordia College. Furthermore, there are as many as 3,000 students taking classes within the downtown district.

The Renaissance Zone

: Started in 1999, the Renaissance Zone is a 39-block zone (236.6 acres and 10.3 million square feet) in downtown Fargo that exempts new development from property and income taxes for 5 years and exempts commercial tenants from State income taxes for 5 years. The zone is the foundation for the Downtown Fargo Redevelopment Framework Plan. That program has spurred more than 180 projects, including several mixed-use developments. Building values in the zone have risen 110 percent - from $103 million in 2000 to some $218 million in 2009. Among the $93 million in these projects is an $18 million Cityscapes Plaza, a newly opened retail and student housing project. More than 60 condos and apartment projects (infill and adaptive reuse) have been completed as part of this, expanding housing options. The local housing authority is also leveraging affordable housing programs, such as the Federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, and has built 559 units of affordable housing. A smaller historic preservation zone is within the Renaissance Zone, which leverages State income tax credits for renovations. Fargo's storefront and downtown rehabilitation program uses CDBG funds to provide 50 percent matching grants.

Today, Fargo is known for its low crime rate, affordable housing, and low unemployment rates. However, the city's largest challenge may be finding a solution to overcome Red River floods. Recent discussions have focused on a $1.5 billion diversion project that would channel the Red River's water away from the city.

Tale of the Tape

To help Jaxsons gain a better understanding of the scale of Fargo, here are a few statistics of the community in relation to Jacksonville:


Fargo City Population 2013: 113,658 (City); 223,490 (Metro 2013) - (incorporated in 1871)

Jacksonville City Population 2013: 842,583 (City); 1,394,624 (Metro 2012) - (incorporated in 1832)

City population 1950: Jacksonville (204,517); Fargo (38,256)

City Land Area

Fargo: 48.8 square miles
Jacksonville: 757.7 square miles

Metropolitan Area Growth rate (2010-2013)

Fargo: 7.05%
Jacksonville: +3.64%

Urban Area Population (2010 census)

Fargo: 176,676 (ranked 194 nationwide)
Jacksonville: 1,065,219 (ranked 40 nationwide)

Urban Area Population Density (2010 census)

Fargo: 2,514.3 people per square mile
Jacksonville: 2,008.5 people per square mile

City Population Growth from 2010 to 2013

Fargo: +8,109
Jacksonville: +20,799

Convention Center Exhibition Space:

Fargo: Fargo Civic Center - 36,000 square feet
Jacksonville: Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center (1985) - 78,500 square feet

Connected to or across the street from Convention Center:

Fargo: Radisson Hotel Fargo - 151 rooms
Jacksonville: N/A

Tallest Building:

Fargo: Radisson Hotel - 206 feet
Jacksonville: Bank of America Tower - 617 feet

Fortune 500 companies 2013 (City limits only):

Fargo: N/A
Jacksonville: CSX (231), Fidelity National Financial (316), Fidelity National Information Services (426)

Urban infill obstacles:

Fargo: Parking lots, railroads and industrial uses limit connectivity between Downtown Fargo and Moorhead.
Jacksonville: State & Union Streets cut off downtown Jacksonville from Springfield.

Downtown Nightlife:

Fargo: Broadway Drive
Jacksonville: East Bay Street

Common Downtown Albatross:

Surface parking lots.

Who's Downtown is more walkable?

Fargo: 88 out of 100, according to
Jacksonville: 88 out of 100, according to

Next Page: Downtown Fargo Photo Tour

Downtown Fargo Photo Tour

Completed in 1985, The 18-story Radisson Hotel Fargo is the tallest building in Downtown Fargo.

625 First Avenue North was constructed in 1910 for the Pioneer Life Insurance Company. In 2000, the upper floors of the building were renovated and became the Dakotah Pioneer House and the Mental Health Clinic. The street level of the building has been home to a variety of shops during the life of the building.

The Fargo Forum was originally constructed as a three-story building in 1926.  Two additional stories were added in 1938.

Cityscapes Plaza features 40,000 square feet of retail space and 104 deluxe studio, 1, 2, 3, and 4 bedroom apartments on the upper four levels.

The Gardner Hotel opened in 1908. Guests over the years included Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Charlie Chaplin, and Jack Dempsey. In 1985, the old hotel was converted into 129 apartment units.

Plains Art Museum is the largest museum of art in the state. The museum has been located in a former International Harvester Company warehouse (built in 1904) since 1996.

The recently completed Mark Apartments is a 45-unit residential community featuring a mix of one- and two-bedroom units.

The Robb Lawrence Building (NDSU Renaissance Hall) was a farm implement warehouse when completed in 1903. Vacant for much of the 1990s, the building was saved from demolition when software developer Doug Burgum purchased and donated the structure to North Dakota State University for the Art, Architecture and Landscape Architecture programs. It reopened in 2004 as NDSU's downtown campus

: Working with NDSU to help it grow inward toward downtown. In 2001, NDSU acquired a 52,000 square foot building in downtown, the first of many university buildings downtown. This commitment from NDSU has helped downtown become a lively place. Along with the transit system, the university has created the UPass cooperative, a bus pass for students from the main campus to downtown. This has helped Metro Area Transit ridership double in the past 5 years, to nearly 1.7 million.

Broadway Streetscape and Multimodal Enhancements

: One major project has been the Broadway Streetscape enhancement, a $10 million facelift of the main commercial and retail corridor of downtown Fargo. Completed in 2004, the project included more pedestrian-friendly street design, decorative pavers in streets and sidewalks, ornate light poles, iron street furniture, bicycle racks, trees, planting beds, and a road diet. Street designs were implemented to slow down traffic and promote walkability. Now Broadway is the official bicycle/pedestrian safety zone. It features a share-path and on-street bike racks and bike lockers. Sidewalks and tree-lined streets welcome pedestrians. Most buildings are low-rise and human in scale, and many feature ground-floor retail with commercial and owner-occupied residential above. The street designs have made it possible for pedestrians, bicycles, transit buses, and motor vehicles to blend well together. Walking has increased due not only to streetscape design that accommodates pedestrians, but also street and sidewalk activities that attract walking visitors. Transit is conveniently available from downtown to other points in the area and increased following transit programs implemented by North Dakota State University (NDSU). A downtown circulator has been proposed in the 2010 budget. Lessons learned from this project are being applied to a one-way conversion project on another city street and a larger State roadway.

The Richardson Romanesque style Great Northern Depot was built in 1906. Today, Amtrak service is provided via the Empire Builder route, which connects Fargo with Chicago, Minneapolis, St. Paul, Portland,  Seattle and Spokane.

505 Broadway is located just north of the Fargo Amtrak Station. This former Ford Assembly Plant was constructed in 1914 and designed by John Graham of Seattle who build similar structures for Ford in other cities, including Minneapolis.

The 400 building contains 41 assisted living units at the intersection of Broadway and 4th Avenue North. The Classical Revival style building was the Powers Hotel when completed in 1914-15.

Completed in 2009, 300 Broadway is located on space once used as a parking lot for the nearby Fargo Theatre. The first floor includes retail space, a two-story atrium and a 78-seat second screen for the Fargo Theatre. Condos are located on the second, third and fourth floors.

The six-block Fargo Skyway provides a convenient pedestrian connection between parking, restaurants, retail stores and entertainment venues in the heart of Downtown Fargo.

Built in 1930, the Black Building is the tallest structure in the Downtown Fargo Historic District. Originally, the basement and first two floors were occupied by Sears. The remaining six floors were leased as office space.

The International Order of Odd Fellows Hall was originally constructed in 1894. The Hotel Donaldson, an artist-inspired boutique hotel now occupies the space.

: The Hotel Donaldson in Fargo’s revitalized downtown offers far more than a place to sleep. Art-filled rooms; beds you’ll linger in; artisan cuisine paired with wine, beer, and spirits; and friendly, experienced staff members create a memorable experience.

After more than 100 years as a fraternal lodge and hotel, the building took on its current life in 2003 after a three-year renovation process. Since then, The Hotel Donaldson has become recognized for its exceptional hospitality and its role as a central location for downtown Fargo’s nightlife, dining, and culture.

Now occupied by Bell State Bank & Trust, this building opened in 1926 as the First National Bank.

The 10-story Bank of the West Tower was completed in 1973.

In 1878, anchored by the Northern Pacific's depot, Main Avenue was known as Front Street and recognized as Fargo's main thoroughfare. The 600 Block of Main Avenue represents Fargo's greatest concentration of Italianate commercial structures.

The first two floors of the DeLendrecie Block date back to 1894. Three additional floors were added in 1904. At the time, it housed deLendrecie's Department Store. In 1972, deLendrecie's relocated to a suburban shopping mall, leading to the structure being converted into an apartment building three years later.

Photographs by Russell Conner. Article by Ennis Davis, AICP. Contact Ennis at

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