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City backs downtown redevelopment plan

West Fargo's old core downtown could have a new look in the next decade if members of the public and private sector work together on specifics of a revitalization plan adopted by West Fargo City Commissioners Monday night.

The vision plan calls for a revamping of Sheyenne Street and Main Avenue in short, mid and long term phases that will result in revitalization and reinvestment, with the success of the implementation requiring the ongoing focus of city leaders and the business and private sector.

The plan was initiated in November of 2010 as a partnership between the city of West Fargo and the Metropolitan Council of Governments. The goal was to determine the degree to which investment and redevelopment potential exists along, and in areas adjacent to Sheyenne Street and Main Avenue. The study also aimed to identify what the character of future development would be in order to ensure economic competiveness and continued vitality for the heart of the West Fargo community.

The study area encompassed a 165-acre area, involving much of the original core of the West Fargo community, bounded by west to east, the Sheyenne River to Third Street East, and north to south, Pinewood Boulevard to Seventh Avenue East.

Centro Inc., a Denver based consulting firm, led the redevelopment study, exploring a number of key areas in arriving at the final consensus for the plan, which addressed: creating a unique community 'heart' for West Fargo; improving the economic performance of the downtown area; improving the overall image of the historic core; and creating public and private investment opportunities in the area.

Jamie Licko, representing the firm, was at the meeting Monday night to provide an outlay of the plan, which she said will require significant physical changes on both thoroughfares.

Among them are increasing the density and height of buildings on Sheyenne, moving buildings closer to the sidewalks and creating anchors, as well as adding a mix of smaller community-oriented retail and civic spaces, in turn creating a pedestrian-friendly Main Street feel, serving those who live within the trade areas, as well as visitors. The plan also calls for parking to the rear of the businesses, and ultimately two traffic lanes, and two parking lanes, with an alternative truck route to keep big vehicles out.

Proposals for Main Avenue focused on creating a regional draw by promoting a large community center filled with mostly medium-sized regional and national businesses not currently present in the market, i.e. grocer, discount department store, quick-casual dining stores, etc. Also included in the mix were increased, building height, creating accessible parking and quality signage.

Licko said there is also extra marketing potential space in both these areas to the tune of several thousand additional square feet. Sheyenne Street has 90,000 square feet and the ability for 140,000, while Main Avenues possibilities are even greater.

Licko added that if West Fargo is able to create the physical environment to support this market demand an additional $1.4 to $1.5 in sales tax could be generated each year.

"West Fargo really does have significant elements for successful revitalization and really have something special here if a focused effort is taken," Licko stated. "The public sector must provide the leadership and the private sector must come to the table and work together as partners."

She proposed a variety of short and long term steps in moving forward with the plan, starting with the adoption of a public-private work force of city and business leaders to begin implementation.

She said action would also be required in incremental phases in other key areas including: regulation and guidelines, incentive and investments, and catalysts.

She emphasized that complete follow through and focus would be crucial in realizing the plan during the course of the next ten years.

Mayor Rich Mattern said he thought the plan was a good one, praising everyone involved for their efforts. "I like that it starts with guidelines. This is a long term plan, not something we have to do tomorrow. This has a lot of merit and I've heard from people that they really like his plan. For me, I think it a great start, and more than that I think it's doable."

Commissioner Mike Thorstad agreed, saying he would like to see plans include more aesthetic appeal on Main Avenue. "We need directional signage so people can find businesses and then more trees and other things like that. I think this is a really good plan."

He also noted the importance of an ongoing commitment to fruition of the plan. "We can't put it on the shelf and forget about it. We need to pick up the ball and really keep running with it."

Commissioner Mark Simmons said he thought "the timing for the plan is great in a whole lot of ways," noting that with the present lack of space at city hall and the police department, a potential move of city hall offices to Sheyenne Street as part of the civic-based anchor group should be considered.

The board voted unanimously to approve the plan.

The next regularly scheduled meeting of the West Fargo City Commission will take place Monday, Jan. 16, at 5:30 p.m. in the Commission Chambers at West Fargo, City Hall, 800 4th Ave. E. All meetings are open to the public.