City could take arena land by eminent domain if needed: The (Fargo -Grand Forks ND) Forum, 3/16/05

By Mary Jo Almquist

If downtown business owners refuse to make way for a $40 million arena and events center proposed for their block, Fargo officials may have to use force to move them.

But the city will use eminent domain - a rarely used tactic allowing the government to seize private property for public use - only as a last resort, Fargo City Commissioner John Cosgriff told about two dozen business owners Tuesday.

If voters approve the taxpayer-funded Renaissance Center May 3, the city hopes to negotiate a fair buyout with everyone involved, Cosgriff said.

For example, if a business wants to come back to the block if and when the Renaissance Center is built, that could be arranged, he said. It's also possible that a temporary location could be secured downtown for businesses waiting for the new facility.

But Cosgriff also warned business owners that the process will be political.

"I cannot promise you this is going to be easy," he said.

The buyout process will only be necessary if voters approve a 3 1/2-year extension of the Fargodome sales tax to pay for the arena and events center, proposed for the block bound by First Avenue North, NP Avenue, Broadway and Roberts Street.

Cosgriff, along with Cityscapes Development President Mike Bullinger and Brad Wimmer, chairman of the arena citizen s committee, on Tuesday tried to paint a picture of what could happen if voters approve the project.

Cityscapes and the citizen's group already have met with several civic groups and local government boards.

Paul Dobbins, owner of PD's on First, organized the business owner meeting at his restaurant. These are people who, like Dobbins, would have to relocate if the arena is built. Dobbins said he thinks the project is a great idea.

Cosgriff explained if the vote goes through, the city would be responsible for acquiring and clearing the land. The portion that would be dedicated to the $60 million private office, retail and condominium tower would then be sold back to Cityscapes for development.

That land could generate about $1 million per year in property taxes, compared to the $58,000 being collected today for the entire block, project backers say.

Without the Renaissance Center, it will probably be 20 years before this block fills in, Wimmer said. With the project, it will take about three years, he said.

One building some historians have expressed concern about demolishing is the old bank building at 52 Broadway.

Bullinger said he recently talked with architects and it may be possible to save the building and incorporate it into the design.

Rick Engen, who owns the property, wants to open a nightclub in the space. If his building can be saved, Engen said he would be all for the Cityscapes plan.

Another major property on the block is the fire station, though Fargo Fire Chief Bruce Hoover said he's not concerned about the looming relocation process. Ideally, the city's main fire station should be a little farther south and west anyway, Hoover said.

Not everyone who attended Tuesday s meeting was pleased with what they heard. Property owner Nachhattar Gill is still concerned about the proposal and about Cityscapes Development.

"This is not the right place to build an arena downtown," Gill said. "This is a bad idea."

The Forum: www.in-forum.com

Smart Growth Fargo is a group formed to fight this abuse of eminent domain involving the taking of property and turning it over to a private developer rather than using it for a specific public purpose. For information about Smart Growth Fargo, click here: http://votenomay3rd.blogspot.com