WEST FARGO — The city-owned Lights on Sheyenne 32 Plaza is officially open and a number of large and small community events are still planned for this summer — despite the cancellations of many events due to the coronavirus.
At the West Fargo City Commission meeting on Monday, July 6, many commissioners expressed concern over recently announced concerts that will be held there in July and August.
The Lights on Sheyenne 32 Plaza is owned by the city through a partnership with Epic Properties, the Todd Berning-led development group that planned and is building the Lights on Sheyenne 32 complex at the corner of Sheyenne Street and 32nd Avenue South. Epic Properties was responsible for opening Sheyenne Plaza and Pioneer Place on northern Sheyenne Street.
A four-story parking ramp was the first to be completed and opened earlier this year, which is the first city-owned parking facility for West Fargo. The outdoor plaza, which was built to accommodate winter and summer activities and events, was finished this year with an open house on June 25 and a ribbon-cutting ceremony planned for July 14.
The space is owned by the city but managed by West Fargo Events, which also manages the city's POW/MIA Plaza on northern Sheyenne as well as the West Fargo Sports Arena, which is owned by the West Fargo School District.
West Fargo Events Executive Director Mike Amundson said as manager of the Lights on Sheyenne 32 Plaza, the nonprofit organizes free community activities on behalf of West Fargo and also leases the facility to other groups. That includes Fargo Moorhead Community Theatre's production of "Hairspray," with performances set for 7:30 p.m. July 25-26 and 29-30.
"We lease out the space for other groups to host events and we also host our own programming on behalf of the city," Amundson said.
In May, Epic Events, an offshoot of Epic Properties, announced a summer concert series that includes speaker P.J. Fleck on July 16 and musical acts Hairball on Aug. 1, Sawyer Brown on Aug. 6 and Jimmie Allen on Aug. 8. Epic Events also said it was planning performances by Sara Evans and the Charlie Daniels Band; Daniels died on Monday, July 6.
Tickets for these shows will be general admission, but capacity at each concert will be limited to 1,800. The large planned concerts and general admission concerned Commissioner Eric Gjerdevig.
"To be blunt, a Hairball concert is not worth the risk it could create in the community," Gjerdevig said.
Newly elected commissioner Mandy George said she believes no closures, including schools, should have been forced on cities. She also cited community criticism of the decisions to cancel the July Cruise Night.
"The death rate is really, really low, and those at risk aren't going to come to these events," George said. "I don't think it's our right to shut it down. I personally don't even care what the COVID numbers are."
Mayor Bernie Dardis said the government has some responsibility to consider protections for the community and city staff.
"I"m not going to vote to put our employees at risk," Dardis said.
While he agreed with not overreaching as a government, Commissioner Mark Simmons announced Monday that he suffered from COVID-19 and did not support anyone who believes the danger is not real.
"It scared the hell out of me," Simmons said.
Amundson said West Fargo Events worked with Fargo Cass Public Health to ensure safety precautions are in place for events at the two plazas, including developing a grid system that allows families to be in the space together but socially distant from other families.
Twelve hand sanitizer stations have been installed, and West Fargo Events is offering free hand sanitizer to attendees. Attendees are encouraged to wear masks. Some event promoters also plan to bring in health officials who will offer temperature readings of attendees.
"We're being very safe with our capacity," Amundson said.
Alexis Meyer, event coordinator for West Fargo Events, said a number of free community events are planned in July for both city-owned plazas. Food trucks will be parked at both locations every other week. They will be at the Lights from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Tuesday July 14 and 18 and at the POW/MIA plaza from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. July 15 and 29.T
During the month of July, West Fargo events will host a number of events at the Lights on Sheyenne 32 Plaza, including:
- 7-9 p.m. July 7, "The Secret Life of Pets 2" movie night.
- Noon to 1 p.m. July 8, yoga.
- 5 p.m. July 14, ribbon-cutting ceremony.
- 7-9 p.m. July 14, Family Fun Night.
The POW/MIA Plaza will host its summer concert series starting 7-9 p.m. July 9 with The Dead Beats. On July 13, a fitness class will be held from noon to 1 p.m., and a movie night with a showing of "Abominable" is scheduled 7-9 p.m. July 16.
The Lights on Sheyenne 32 became a reality after the city and West Fargo School District worked together to form a "master plan" for commercial development near the West Fargo Sports Arena. The district hoped restaurants and community space would be developed in the area.
The Lights on Sheyenne 32 is comprised of the parking structure, open plaza and four mixed-use buildings. The first to be completed is now open to residents as well as new businesses, including Bar Down, along with a women's clothing boutique, Lights Nutrition, Taylor Jane Photography and Amy Rose Salon.
The second building, ECHO at the Lights, is on track to open this fall, possibly in September or October, according to Epic Properties' McKenzy Olson. Echo at the Lights will be anchored by Bell Bank, which is also planning to reconstruct its building on north Sheyenne into an eight-story mixed-use building once the southern location is open. About 36 two-story residential units will also be available at ECHO, while the second floor remains open for leasing.
Timelines for the construction of the third building on the west side of the development, as well as a fourth building that will connect to the parking ramp, are currently tentative, but could begin once the second building is finished later this fall.