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Published January 23, 2014, 10:32 AM

Fargo City Hall committee likes 'swoosh' design for new facility

FARGO – Swoosh, there it is. Architects presented three City Hall concepts to the committee tasked with picking a design for the new government building on Wednesday morning. All of the drawings had a skyway connection to the Fargo Civic Center and large, glass atrium spaces for the public.

By: Erik Burgess, Forum News Service, INFORUM, Forum News Service

FARGO – Swoosh, there it is. Architects presented three City Hall concepts to the committee tasked with picking a design for the new government building on Wednesday morning. All of the drawings had a skyway connection to the Fargo Civic Center and large, glass atrium spaces for the public.

But what the committee seemed to like most was a design element from the third option – a concave semi-circle that would mirror the convex circular edge of the Civic. The committee dubbed this design the “swoosh,” and it’ll likely appear in more conceptual drawings as the committee hones in on a final design, architect Terry Stroh said.

The committee – made up largely of city staff and two residents – did not pick a final design Wednesday. It only looked at three concepts and listed pros and cons of each.

All three designs have the roughly 75,000-square-foot building sitting in the northern half of the Civic Center parking lot, a decision the committee made earlier this month.

The group will meet again in two weeks, when the architects will present more options using feedback from Wednesday.

Some committee members described the buildings as looking “boxy,” but Mike Rodriguez, an architect for HDR Inc., said the designs on display Wednesday were conceptual and the shapes of the building will be clear when a final plan is chosen.

Though the images were shown at a public meeting, the architect and city officials originally declined to release them to The Forum. Late Wednesday afternoon, City Administrator Pat Zavoral released the images after multiple requests.

Prevailing comments from the committee were that the building should: allow for natural light, not be too sprawling, be easy to navigate for the public and not disrupt the city’s much-desired corridor from Second Avenue North to the Red River.

Design for the building should be completed by June or July. Construction would take until about November 2015.

Three concepts shown

In all three designs, City Hall seems to be the similar sort of rectangle shape that it is today. Stroh said the required setbacks from the river are to blame.

“The site got a lot more constricted down here than we imagined, to be honest with you,” he said. “So that drove some of the concepts.”

The first option had a two-story commission chamber as a separate building immediately to the east of the Civic. Adjacent to the east of the chambers would be a large, three-story office space that would run along the edge of Second Street with city offices facing the river.

“We can actually watch the river go by instead of piling dirt down there,” Mayor Dennis Walaker said, referring to the familiar earthen dike on Second Street during spring floods.

In the drawing for option one, City Hall had a large atrium on its west side, a public gathering and viewing space. There were large, glass atriums in each concept; architects said they let in more light and make it easier for the public to navigate the building.

Option two had two towers – a four-story office space on the western edge and a two-story office space on the eastern edge along Second Street. Sandwiched between the two towers was a wishbone-shaped atrium.

The final option was a three-story building along the edge of Second Street. The glass atrium was in the front of the building on the south side, and it curved like a bowl, the so-called swoosh.

While several committee members said they liked the swoosh design, the group largely ruled out the rest of the third option because City Hall extended too far south and disrupted the corridor to the river.

“Are we embracing the river or are we going to put another barrier between downtown and the river?” asked City Commissioner Mike Williams.

Parking and pedestrians

All of the drawings show a parking lot to the south of the building, which concerned Williams. He said he thought the city wanted that space to be pedestrian green area.

Williams said if more development is expected to the south of City Hall – a convention or performing arts center – a parking lot between the two buildings would not be “pedestrian friendly.”

Stroh said parking will be a big challenge for the building. He said underground parking will be needed, no matter which option is chosen.

Williams said at least on the south side, the parking lot would be OK if a pedestrian green space can be elevated above it.

Stroh said that concept is “very cool,” but added: “I’ll be the first one to say. I don’t know if you can afford it.”

Williams said downtown parking should be seen as a larger investment and could possibly be independent from the roughly $15 million City Hall project budget.

There was also concern about the height of the proposed Second Street floodwall, and how it would affect the riverfront view. Stroh said the conceptual drawings didn’t take into account the added level of underground parking.

“You’re going to overlook the floodwall, more than likely,” Stroh said.

Stroh also floated an idea for the far future. With any of the options, it’s possible for the city to detach and remove Centennial Hall and use that space to add even more city offices, if needed.

“That’s probably 20, 30 years down the road,” he said. “You have a spot where you can do something very nice and get a lot of city office space.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518

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