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Continued: Fargo reinvents itself as a magnet for creative types and entrepreneurs

  • Article by: JENNIFER BROOKS , Star Tribune
  • Last update: June 3, 2014 - 2:09 PM

The downtown does more than look good. A distinctive city center with amenities can make the difference in attracting new businesses and workers.

“Value what makes your community distinctive. Don’t try to look like everyone else,” said Thomas R. Fisher, dean of the College of Design at the University of Minnesota.

The two largest demographic groups in America today are the aging baby boomers and the millennials, born between the 1980s and 2000s. Both groups, Fisher said, are increasingly drawn to downtown living, often for the same reasons — they want the entertainment, shops and amenities you can walk to, unlike the sidewalk-free sprawl of the suburbs.

The other half

Across the Red River, Moorhead, in its low-key Minnesota way, is growing even faster than Fargo. “People are feeling really, really excited, ” said Moorhead Mayor Del Rae Williams. The city’s population jumped 18 percent in the last census, compared to Fargo’s 16 percent.

But it’s not always easy being the other half of a hyphenated metro area. Rather than focusing on downtown revitalization — a difficult proposition, since a large swath of downtown Moorhead was razed to make way for a mall — Moorhead cultivates the image of a politically progressive, family-friendly college town. It touts its schools, its close-knit neighborhoods, its public funding for the arts, its parks and green spaces — in short, its Minnesota-ness.

As much as the cities value their unique identities, what’s good for Fargo is good for Moorhead, and vice versa.

“People ask me sometimes why I don’t do something for Moorhead,” said Burgum, cuing up Web pages for Moorhead’s largest universities — Concordia and Minnesota State University, Moorhead. He pointed to images on both schools’ websites, featuring prominent images of downtown Fargo. “I tell them I am doing something for Moorhead.”

Small town, big ambitions

Fargo is a city of networkers. One person will notice that the downtown alleys could use some sprucing up, and in short order Alley Fair gets created, with volunteers fanning out over town to fill vacant alleys with art, plants and light. It can feel like the city has a downtown improvement flash mob.

“It’s a small town with big ambitions, ” said Mark Weiler, a Fargo native who owns Ecce Studios, a hybrid art gallery and yoga studio in the center of downtown.

Every month, Ecce hosts a midnight gathering that sums up Fargo at its best: Diners gather around a table decorated by a local artist, eat vegan food sourced from nearby farms, the seating carefully chosen to place the entrepreneur next to a financier, or a newcomer next to a native. The entertainment at the last midnight brunch was a violinist from the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony, who played while an international yo-yo champion performed.

So people keep coming, and Fargo-Moorhead keeps growing. “Fargo is filled with really talented, creative, hardworking people that care, ” Tehven said. “And we’re having the time of our lives.”


Jennifer Brooks • 612-673-4008


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