FLATLANDER

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Ralph's looks to stay put


The owners of Ralph's Corner do not plan to move, a Moorhead city official and a developer consulting with the family that owns the bar said Tuesday.
City redevelopment plans have forced the owners of the downtown Moorhead bar to decide whether to sell to the city, renovate or partner with the developer who will eventually build on the block where Ralph's now sits.
If the owners of Ralph's do nothing, the city has threatened to condemn the property as a last resort.
Peter Doll, the city's manager of developmental services, said the Wood family wants to remain at the Fourth Street South and Main Avenue location where Ralph's has been for 47 years.
"They have determined they would like to retain ownership," Doll said.



"I think everything they're doing is focused on staying," said Bartram, co-owner of Sterling Co., the Fargo-based firm whose $17 million development project surrounds the bar.
Bartram said Sterling Co. wants to develop the west side of Fourth Street South, especially if Ralph's remains.
"I don't think it's any real secret we're interested in developing that site," he said.
He said the built-in customer base of Ralph's would make it an ideal anchor for future development of the block.
The city has spent about $470,000 buying the block's four other buildings and relocating businesses. It has not selected a developer for the area or decided how it will choose a firm.
Mike Wood said the family has not ruled anything out, though moving would be "pretty tough."
"That's kind of our signature spot down there. If we were to move, we'd probably be alienating our core group," he said.
Wood said the family is also consulting with Michael J. Burns Architects on possible renovation plans.
Moving into a new facility at the current location would cost about $1 million, which Wood said is probably more than the family can afford.
"You have to look at the bottom line," he said.
Wood believes the bar can be renovated for less money and still "blend in to the folks around us."
Wood and city officials have not set a meeting to discuss options the family is considering.
If an agreement is not reached in October, the city may begin the process of condemning the property, City Manager Bruce Messelt said.
The deadline for a state grant the city is seeking to help pay for the redevelopment project is Nov. 1.
Messelt said the city is checking with the state to see if it needs to begin condemning the property before applying for the grant if no other option is reached by then.
Even if the city begins the process of invoking eminent domain, it could be stopped at any time if another suitable agreement is reached, Messelt said.
"That may just force a settlement," he said.
The city would like to avoid seizing the property through eminent domain, he said.
Messelt said a U.S. Supreme Court decision Tuesday to consider a challenge to a Connecticut law allowing property to be condemned for economic development would not affect Ralph's because studies have found the bar qualifies as blighted.
Cities have the right to condemn blighted property for redevelopment, he said.
Doll said Moorhead condemned two nonblighted properties for economic development reasons while assembling properties for the Holiday Mall project four years ago.
The city's policy is to only use eminent domain to seize nonblighted properties as part of a larger assembly of land that includes blighted buildings, Doll said.

Read that last line very carefully.
Almost any commercial area in the city of Moorhead could be labeled blighted with the exception of the Brookdale area. EasTen is vibrant, but ugly.
Look at the other areas of the city where they have claimed eminent domain to redevelop property. How's their track record?
When the city tears down a building, more often than not, the business that occupied that building moves to Fargo.

If you own a small business in Moorhead, look at your neighborhood. When's the city coming to "improve" your area?


I like to look at the big picture, but I don't see any long range plan to create a vibrant community. Buildings alone do not create a business district, just look at the Holiday Mall and Center Mall areas.
Some of the finest retail space available in the Fargo/Moorhead area and it has been empty for 2 or more years. No, I don't have a better plan - but, I'm thinking about it.
Give these businesses a reason to locate in Moorhead. What's the main difference between West Fargo and Moorhead?

Special incentives and favors to devlopers get buildings built, but how do you get vibrant, long term businesses that provide tax revenue and jobs in those buildings?

West Fargo is almost full, maybe it's finally Moorhead's turn.

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