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InForum: Fargo to sell riverfront land to EPIC Companies; decision on sale of warehouse site delayed

February 23, 2022

FARGO — The Fargo City Commission voted 4-1 Tuesday, Feb. 22, to sell land at 1 2nd St. S. to EPIC Companies to develop into a mixed-use housing and commercial building.

The EPIC project, called UNITE, will be the third building in the firm’s vision for the eastern gateway to the city. EPIC will pay $1,188,000 for the land by Main Avenue and the Red River, where it wants to build a $28 million, seven-story building.

UNITE would have 30 condominiums, 37 apartments, 15,000 square feet of commercial space and interior parking. Work will begin this fall and be completed in late 2023, the company said.

EPIC is requesting a five-year Renaissance Zone tax break, which must be heard by the Renaissance Zone Authority before it goes to the commission for approval.

The decision to sell the riverfront land to EPIC had been delayed two weeks as Commissioner John Strand, a proponent of more workforce housing, asked that the city’s Development Committee be allowed to weigh in on the project.

The Development Committee heard the issue, but didn’t make a recommendation, instead starting an ad hoc committee to look at the proposal and study housing issues.

Strand asked fellow city commissioners to table the vote two more weeks, but the motion died for a lack of a second.

“What’s wrong with taking a couple more weeks” on the decision, he said. “Yeah, the horse is out of the barn, but for the moment, let’s do it right.”

Mayor Tim Mahoney reminded Strand that four low-income housing projects are already in the works, and that once the Lashkowitz High Rise is removed, it will be replaced by low-income housing. Mahoney added that the city has already commissioned a housing study.

Getting the right people around the table to figure out the city’s housing needs and solutions “is not going to be done in two weeks, it’s not going to be done in one subcommittee meeting,” Commissioner Arlette Preston said. “I don’t see any value” in returning it to the subcommittee, she said. "It’s going to take a few months.”

Strand was the lone dissenting vote on the EPIC vote.

Meanwhile, the commission took no action on choosing the developer for another downtown site — the former Fargo Public Schools warehouse property. The decision on 419 3rd St. N. is on hold for three weeks as two city committees agreed earlier Tuesday to give a nonprofit, Authentic Housing, more time to prove it has the financial backing to bring its workforce housing plan to fruition.

Earlier Tuesday, the Economic Development Incentives Committee and the Renaissance Zone Authority discussed a recommendation for selling the warehouse property.

The other developer vying for the property is Kilbourne Group, which has offered two possible mixed-use housing and commercial projects for the land, plus a third, much larger project if it can obtain the nearby former school district main office building and land.

PFM, a city consultant, said the financing Authentic Housing has proposed has been done around the country; however, Authentic Housing should prove it has a commitment from a lender for financing, as well as a companion letter of intent from an equity investor or a syndicator for low-income housing projects.

Fred Eoff of PFM also said that not having dedicated parking for the housing project “is quite unusual… unless you have reason to believe that all the tenants will be mobile without vehicles of their own. With no onsite parking, it will put a strain on the neighborhood.”

City Commissioner David Piepkorn said he didn’t believe that the city has a robust enough transportation system to make a housing project without parking workable.

For its part, Kilbourne Group maintains that it’s critical to get a decision soon if it is going to have a chance to get studies of the site finished in time to begin construction in the fall.

Mahoney suggested that Authenic Housing would be better served by working on a smaller, $12 million to $15 million reconstruction of the low-income Burrell and Colonial housing along 4th Street and 4th Avenue North in order to gain experience and prove their ability to bring a project to completion.

“I don’t think they’ll be able to sustain a $50 million project. When you ask people in the industry... that isn’t easy,” Mahoney said.

Members of the committees went back and forth on the need to bring more low-income housing downtown, and the need for developers to have their financing and plans clearly laid out, before voting to allow Authentic Housing three more weeks to provide proof that it has the financial backing to make the plan work.

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