Aimee Erdman 2017-06-06 13:09:47
When it comes to downtown development, Kilbourne Group in Fargo brings this old saying to life: Everything old is new again Everyone loves a great makeover. TV series such as Fixer Upper, Flip or Flop and the like captivate viewers by showing transformations from grungy to glam. Watching the ugly duckling emerge as the beautiful swan just feels good. But for a city thinking about its downtown, is the emotionally satisfying decision the best choice economically? Environmentally? The folks at Kilbourne Group say yes.\ “Downtown revitalization creates long-term vitality and financial solvency for a community,” says Mike Allmendinger, president of Kilbourne Group, a development firm focused solely on downtown Fargo. Kilbourne Group began with Doug Burgum’s love of downtown Fargo, born out of his mother’s adoration of the neighborhood and its historic buildings and her dismay during the urban renewal phase of demolition. The younger Burgum had determined that he could have the biggest impact on the region through mixed-use historic renovation and urban infill in downtown. Downtown Dream In 2003, the opportunity to renovate Renaissance Hall materialized. After the building had sat empty for years, the owner had decided the only course of action was to raze it. Burgum offered to take ownership of the building, and he and Mike Allmendinger worked together to renovate it. Burgum subsequently donated the building to North Dakota State University. And as Burgum and Allmendinger imagined the economic and activity impact of adding thousands of college students in downtown every day, a bigger dream emerged. They’ve been working closely together for more than a decade to revitalize downtown Fargo. Burgum’s curiosity regarding city economics and the impact of downtowns evolved into the broader vision of Kilbourne Group, which was incorporated in 2006. The company started with three projects in Fargo: 300 Broadway, 102 Broadway and the Smith, Follett & Crowl building. Together, Burgum and Allmendinger worked on storefront design and prioritizing retail on the ground floor. They purposefully designed walkability principles into each project and patiently waited for retail tenants. Out of this partnership, the values and mission of Kilbourne Group were born. “Our work is about making downtown Fargo as vibrant as it can be, which leads to a smart, healthy city. The impact we desire is a healthier city, both physically and financially, and to make our downtown a competitive differentiator,” said Allmendinger. Fixer Upper or Money Pit? Saving downtown isn’t without its challenges, however. Historic renovation in an existing area can come with more risk and thereby more expense than building structures in open, undeveloped land at the edge of town. For decades, cities have incentivized edge development through infrastructure buildout, which is paid for through special assessments and city funding, which means by taxpayers. Other challenges include environmental cleanup, the added cost of building up rather than out, the fact that downtown land tends to be more expensive and have a higher tax rate, and the reality that infrastructure rehabilitation doesn’t get the same federal and state cost share as new infrastructure for greenfield projects does. Brownfield (redeveloping existing structures) and infill (building and repurposing unused space in an existing development) build on infrastructure already in place. Greenfield construction, or using currently undeveloped property for a project, requires a substantial commitment and investment from the community. Infrastructure such as water, sewer, and roads all need to be paid for by the city, as does the maintenance of the new systems. Greenfield development certainly has its place. Big Box retailers who need more square footage and parking typically look for greenfield development opportunities. Retail and restaurants might be looking to expand into growing neighborhoods and new developments, where greenfield construction is the only option. But focusing solely on outward expansion is shortsighted, Allmendinger says. “A vibrant downtown with walkable, mixed-use development generates higher density and creates more property taxes per block than any area in a city. Also, the mixed use creates an 18-hour city and a high level of activity, all of which helps people have great experiences in downtown.” Mixed-use buildings attract diverse and unique businesses, which in turn build a creative community through the impromptu communication and networking that often happen in a vibrant district. Ultimately, revitalization honors the history and culture of a community by saving a landscape that tells their story. Allmendinger believes this model works in small and large communities alike. “There are at least 58 communities in the state with Renaissance Zones. Small communities are having success with downtown revitalization projects too,” says Allmendinger. PB
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