The postcard above shows Center Avenue in Moorhead circa 1965. The FM Hotel building looks familiar, doesn’t it? It’s one of the only structures in this scene which still stands. It’s a tragedy, really.
I live in North Fargo, so I do a lot of shopping in Moorhead because it’s closer than going out to the West Acres area. But every time I venture into Moorhead, I’m confronted with a declining cityscape.
The popularity of West Acres Mall in Fargo instigated some developments that were of questionable judgement. In an ill-advised urban renewal project, most of downtown Moorhead was razed to make way for the Moorhead Center Mall and the new Moorhead City Hall. The new development was wholly inadequate to compete with West Acres and quickly declined into an urban ghost town.
Although the Moorhead Center Mall has been going through a mild resurgence over the last few years, there aren’t many who would defend its existence. Adding insult to self-inflicted injury, Moorhead has suffered from a lack of leadership on both local and state levels which has manifested itself in a blighted city core. The examples are many.
The 800 Block of Center Avenue
The 800 block of Center Avenue in Moorhead is beginning to look like something you would see in Chicago or Detroit. Empty storefronts line the block on both sides of the street.
The structure above at 1004 First Avenue North housed a second hand/antique store recently, but it only lasted about a year.
The Klenk building (above) at 613 Main Avenue has been empty for as long as I can remember. Looking in through the front windows (below) you can see the entire building is full of junk.
On more than one occasion this building has been a source of discussion between my business partner and I. It is architecturally attractive, and could be quite nice if it underwent a renovation. It’s a great location, right across from Ace Hardware on Main Avenue, just down the street from M&H and the Rourke Art Gallery. If we were ready to have a retail store, we would be interested in this spot, and I can’t imagine we’re alone.
These are but a few examples of a terrible trend which seems to be growing. Absentee landlords seem content to use their Moorhead properties as little more than ugly storage space. Although the railroad quiet zone has certainly brought some peace to downtown Moorhead, one could argue the closed streets have resulted in even more blight. Businesses have suffered from the altered traffic flow, and weeds grow up around haphazardly placed concrete barriers. There have been public relations failures as well. A failed street project on Main Avenue made news last summer, and new condo projects on the riverfront suffer from higher-than-expected vacancy rates.
There have been successes in Moorhead — the Comstock House, the Kassenborg Block, and the Fairmont Creamery among them. But they are a small fraction of happy endings in a pile of sad stories. The I94 and Easten sections of town are drawing away development dollars that could go a long way toward revitalizing downtown Moorhead, and spreading a small city over a broad area, straining city services and tax revenues.
With Mayor Mark Voxland declining to run for re-election, perhaps now is the time for questions to be asked. What can be done to compel property owners to take action on their blighted properties? Where are the budding entrepreneurs with the vision to see past these faded facades? Recently, a vocal group of Moorhead property owners have begun pushing to have the blighted properties in Moorhead’s city core demolished. Demolition can’t possibly be the only answer. There must be a deep-pocketed philanthropist or business person who could lend a hand on the east side of the river.
Let’s hope cooler heads prevail. Moorhead has already lost enough of their history.