By Kristen M. Daum
The wide-open prairie along Veterans Boulevard will fast become a memory
within the next couple decades, if all goes as planned for developers.
Hundreds of acres of agricultural land south of Interstate 94 between Fargo
and West Fargo is poised for an explosion of development, starting this year.
Veterans Boulevard serves as a boundary between the two cities.
Some development has already begun near the corridor with the construction of Scheels Arena in Fargo and the Sheyenne Ninth Grade Center and early additions of the Shadow Wood subdivision, both south of 32nd Avenue in West Fargo.
However, large expanses of land still remain untouched – primarily north of 32nd Avenue.
Developers there are on the edge of transforming that stretch into what they hope will be a destination corridor akin to 42nd or 45th streets in Fargo.
Plans call for a vibrant mix of shopping, business and residential uses for the area – with specific desires for a big-box retail store, hotel and grocery store.
West Fargo leaders, especially, have high hopes for the location, since it is one of the few remaining expanses of land in the city still available for commercial development.
“The question is, is Veterans Boulevard the next 13th Avenue?” West Fargo Mayor Rich Mattern said.
The more than 500 acres of land west of Veterans Boulevard and north of 32nd Avenue will eventually be known as “The Preserve.”
The development will be primarily residential – with two-thirds of it slated to be a mix of apartments, attached homes and single-family residences.
But the location will also house more than 75 acres of commercial property, which will likely be a mix of offices and shopping.
That amount of commercial land is more than West Fargo already has along the 13th Avenue corridor.
West Fargo Public Schools purchased land last year at the center of The Preserve development for a park and the future site of an elementary school.
While the area is still a barren field, passers-by will begin seeing the development come to life this spring.
With initial infrastructure already in place, houses will begin popping up in the coming weeks in the Mapleridge area of the development, west of Fourth Street and north of 32nd Avenue, said Jim Bullis, the project representative.
By this fall, construction will begin on homes east of Fourth Street, in what will be the South Pond subdivision.
Developers hope retailers and other businesses won’t be too far behind once the construction begins on the homes, the school and the future Sanford Health medical center on the Fargo side of Veterans Boulevard adjacent to I-94.
“With the interchange being right there, it’s got great access, great visibility,” said Dan Bueide, who represents the owners of the South Pond and North Pond areas of The Preserve. “Our biggest challenge is going to be just the time it takes to develop a piece of property like that.”
Bueide and West Fargo city leaders hope the land nearest the I-94 interchange will eventually be home to either a big-box retail store or a hotel.
In August, Minnesota Hospitality Inc. expressed interest with Cass County in building a Holiday Inn Express on the site. However, owner Sanjay Patel said last week the project is still “in process.”
Bueide said there’s been a lot of “tire-kicking” but no firm commitment yet on the site – or the other commercial property at The Preserve.
With the national economy still on the mend, major retailers have been hesitant to explore new markets or locations, Bueide said.
He added, “There’s a need for hotels in this area, and we’d love to find a use for that as part of this, too.”
If development went smoothly, The Preserve could be completed in 10 years – but realistically, it might take up to 20 years to develop, Bueide said.
“I think the residential is going to go very quickly,” he said. “It’s the commercial that’s going to take a little while.”
East of Veterans Boulevard, developers of Urban Plains also hope to attract a variety of businesses, boosted by the presence of Scheels Arena and the nearby Sanford/ YMCA Wellness Center, currently under construction.
Just north of Urban Plains, Sanford Health plans to build a $300 million medical center next to I-94 in Fargo’s Agassiz Crossing development.
Sanford plans to break ground in 2013.
City officials and developers expect the hospital will eventually anchor the Veterans Boulevard corridor and attract prospective investors to the open land.
“(Sanford) is going to need some amenities,” Urban Plains developer Matt Baasch said. “Places to live and places to dine – I see some really cool things happening in the next few years.”
Like the West Fargo side, Baasch said he’s received a lot of interest in the commercial property along Veterans Boulevard – but “there’s a lot of tire kickers right now, waiting to see what’s going in their first.”
“With Sanford and their projects going on, that’s going to make a big impact on this whole area,” he added.
With all of the commercial property planned along Veterans Boulevard, it’s only natural developers will compete to attract businesses to their land.
The cities of Fargo and West Fargo also are competing – since commercial property brings in more taxes than residential or agricultural land.
But developers for The Preserve and Urban Plains said they see their quest for businesses more as “friendly competition,” working together for the greater good of the corridor’s development.
“We’re competing with the Fargo side to the extent that everybody wants to develop land,” Bueide said. “That land will all develop in time, and so where possible, my approach to things is to try to work with people and do what’s good for everybody.”
Baasch agreed that “the better their development is, the better it’s going to be for us, too.”
However, for West Fargo, the commercial development on the corridor will have a greater impact on the city as a whole.
With West Fargo’s record growth in the last decade, unclaimed land for development has grown scarce.
From here, West Fargo can only grow to the west and north, areas that lie outside the protection of the Sheyenne Diversion.
With the potential near Veterans Boulevard and the limited chances for opportunities elsewhere, city leaders are sensitive about successfully developing the open space along the corridor.
“In all realistic expectation, unless we go outside the diversion, this is our last go of it,” West Fargo senior planner Steven Zimmer said.
*Online subscription may be required.