When asked what to do with the former St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in downtown Fargo, our community had plenty of opinions.
After Kilbourne Group purchased the church at 670 4th Ave. N., this fall, we also initiated a crowdsourcing project to gain input on the best, most fiscally feasible use for this historic space. Outside of the church, we erected a large display board, containing the words, “I’d like to see St. Mark’s become …” We also solicited usage ideas on our Facebook page.
We received more than 120 responses, showing that our community has no shortage of interest, creativity or – yes – humor concerning this topic. Several suggested that the former church become a … wait for it … church! Another dubbed it “St. Mark’s Barbecue Joint.” And another witty contributor suggested it become headquarters to the “North Dakota Chapter of the Society of Red-Headed Men.”
Most seemed to feel a strong sense of community ownership about the appearance of the downtown landmark. “Preserve the outside if possible!” wrote one person. “For the love of all that is good in the world, please take care of those stained-glass windows!” wrote another.
Here, in order of popularity, are your ideas for what we could potentially do with St. Mark’s:
1. A homeless shelter
We received 15 different requests to turn the space either into a homeless shelter or an extension of the neighboring Salvation Army. One resident suggested a “Jane Addams-like center,” where residents could find coffee, conversation, art and facilities – especially for homeless kids, new refugees and travelers.”
Another person cited St. Mark’s centralized location as ideal for low-income housing. “The location is close to downtown and/or bus routes so that low-income people would have access to medical facilities, entertainment, some shopping and socialization.”
“This church has been giving back to the community of Fargo for so many years,” someone wrote. “I believe it should continue to give back to our great community.”
2. A regional history archives and institute
We received at least a dozen requests to turn the building into a “decent, safe, climate-controlled” home for the NDSU Institute for Regional Studies. The institute – which serves as an important archive for the area’s historical materials and photos – was recently moved from the Skills and Technology Center north of NDSU. It is now in temporary quarters at the old Knox Lumber Building/GEM Plant on 7th Avenue North (near I-29). “This location and building are far from ideal, as it is about 3 miles from campus and not on a bus route,” writes John Hallberg, archives associate. “This will make it difficult for student and public access to the building for historical research.”
Hallberg and others cited St. Mark’s centralized accessibility, its convenient location on the city’s bus route, its proximity to the other college campuses and its warm, historic atmosphere as great assets for a potential headquarters for historic documents.
· Hallberg suggested that a vault could be added to the back that would provide the ideal HVAC for proper storage of historical records and artifacts. He envisioned office space at the front of the building, and classroom space for the NDSU History Department to use for its Public History Program. Other research collections could be moved to the site, including the Germans from Russia Heritage Collection and the Emily Reynolds Costume Collection. “The sanctuary could serve as a museum space that public history students could use for learning museum work,” Hallberg wrote. “It could also be used as the archives research room and library.”
· “The inside could be remodeled to accommodate a large reading room, the stained glass windows would be a wonderful attraction, there are several rooms that could be used as study rooms, and what better way to preserve a historic building than to put historic documents there for everyone to use,” wrote a Fargo academic assistant.
· “The Archives and the Institute house many unique and valuable resources collected over the past 100+ years,” wrote an institute patron. “The information contained in the record is one thing but even feeling the actual paper, seeing the petitions and pleadings folded and refolded, all inform us of processes of the past and they will go away if not cared for. We will all be diminished if they are harmed or lost.”
3. A grocery store
Downtown Fargo residents have been asking for a downtown grocery market ever since Leeby’s on Broadway closed in the space now occupied by Zandbroz Variety. So it didn’t surprise us that, even before the crowdsourcing display board was finished, one woman marched over to us with her own Sharpie and wrote down the very first suggestion: “The Mark-et Grocery Store.” (Nice MARK-eting!)
In all, we received 10 requests to turn St. Mark’s into some kind of grocery store, food co-op or even eco-friendly food manufacturer. Several specifically asked for a Trader Joe’s. The majority specifically mentioned that it could be a headquarters for the Prairie Roots Food Co-op, which is raising funds to open a retail food co-op somewhere in the city.
“Reviving the spirit of Leeby’s or perhaps the Prairie Roots Co-op group?” one resident wrote. “Or a Mercado centrale … with eating/gathering spaces. Warm, vibrant everyday, not just on performance nights. While I support the arts/’food’ for the spirit, surely the practicality of a downtown source of groceries is long overdue.”
Jan Nelson, founder of HeartSprings, an alternative healing center in Fargo, suggested St. Mark’s become home to a multi-faceted healing/art/nutrition center, featuring rooftop vegetable gardening, a food co-op, a tea room, flower gardens, a bakery with a name like “Daily Bread,” a sanctuary/Tai Chi/meditation center, a community art space, a massage and reiki space, a health and healing library, a retreat center and a presentation area for speakers to talk on health and wellness.
Yet another green-friendly, food-related proposal involved concepts like in.gredients, a package-free, zero-waste, local foods store, and The Plant, a Chicago-based organization that is undertaking sustainable food production and economic development inside an old meatpacking facility. The Plant focuses on incubating small craft food businesses, brewing beer and kombucha, and doing it all by using renewable energy that is made onsite.
4. An arts center
We received 12 different requests for various types of arts centers, ranging from a combination theater space/studio for artists to a new location for downtown’s Theatre B. David Swenson, an associate professor of ceramics and sculpture at NDSU, envisioned a type of artist cooperative, where people could rent live-in studio space at affordable rents, which could be subsidized through sales in a gallery located in the main sanctuary.
Another resident suggested a center that would provide offices for local arts organizations while dedicating the large sanctuary area to small-venue performance, rehearsal space and visual-arts display.
One local woman suggested a multi-use center that would skew heavily on the arts side, with a recording studio; rehearsal rooms; concert space in the chapel; art gallery and classrooms; culinary classes; storytelling, poetry and short-story classes and readings; a filmmakers’ workshop; and a theater for showing avant-garde films.
Yet another proposed a performing arts theatre/school with a twist – it would also be available for non-profit community groups such as Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Junior Achievement and Red Cross volunteer training.
5. A multi-use center
Other multi-use centers were also proposed, as the roomy building could easily house more than one business or concept. A postal worker, who is based downtown, suggested a combination breakfast and lunch place/deli/coffee shop/ “Planet Fitness”-type gym.
One female respondent proposed a fusion of boutique specialty shops, coffee spot with books and space for community-education classes.
Yet another had a very specific vision: “Install a ‘public” cafeteria on the first floor, east side of complex (operated by NDSU?) Install nice paving over the grass fronting the wing on the north side. Ring the paving perimeter with berry bushes (raspberries, blueberries, etc.) to slightly enclose the outdoor space and yet low enough to leave it visible to passersby … & add tables & chairs & non-glare lighting fixtures for outdoor dining … chess players, etc. Add a couple of nice trees for a canopy effect.”
The author’s vision didn’t stop there: “Above the cafeteria build furnished mini-apartments (see www.lifeedited.com). If there’s enough space, turn the church over to Theatre B. Use church basement as a permanent base/headquarters for ongoing discussions/classes/lessons on urban renaissance, infill & eye-opening revelations re: the real costs of urban sprawl.”
6. An event/entertainment center
Several pointed to the lack of a downtown entertainment or event venue that could accommodate 500 to 700 people. Such a space could accommodate anything from concert events to large weddings. One respondent cited an example for the ideal event center. “There is an old church in Milvale, PA outside of Pittsburgh turned entertainment complex and has gotten national attention. It has become a destination venue for many popular bands due to its uniqueness. It is called Mr. Smalls Funhouse and receives high praise from anyone who has visited. They provide history, art and entertainment in one location with a one-of-a-kind feel.”
We also received a few requests for the following concepts:
· Various types of museums, ranging from a history or science center to a church museum.
· Inexpensive hotel or youth hostel.
· Affordable apartments ($700 or less/month) or a housing co-op.
· Community center.
· An international market of small shops and food stalls, similar to the Forks Market in Winnipeg.
· Coffee shop.
· Recovery center: including a sober house, detox center or transitional recovery center.
· Transitional housing for women ages 50 and older who suddenly find themselves on their own.
· [Freespace], a type of pop-up, art-oriented community center that can be used by everyone from young professionals to the homeless population.
· Community gardening headquarters/community kitchen or canning kitchen and classrooms.
· Jazz club.
· Country dance club or square-dance club.
· Retreat center.
· 24-7 stage.
· Family service center.
· Convention center.
· Business incubator.
· “English as a Second Language” learning center for New Americans.
· Fitness center, including a fencing club or Pilates studio.
· Winery and bread bakery/store.
· Apartments for the homeless.
· Counseling center for LGBT youth.
· Headquarters for the “Dakota Air” radio show on Prairie Public Radio.
· Dance studio.
· Animal shelter.
· Indoor dog park.
· A recreation center for kids.
· A high-tech charter school.
The team at Kilbourne Group would like to thank everyone for contributing their fresh, creative and often selfless ideas to our crowdsource project. We appreciate your thoughts and they will certainly be taken into consideration as we examine options for the very best, most fiscally feasible use for this beautiful old building.