The plan

The future concept for Phase I of redevelopment of the former Shopko building.

In their continuous effort to support and grow the area’s business community, Greater Fergus Falls (GFF) is pleased to announce the progress on a proposed redevelopment project that has been in the works for months. GFF has been working diligently with representatives from Rivers Edge Investments LLC to navigate a new redevelopment venture to repurpose the former Shopko site in downtown Fergus Falls.

Upon his return to Fergus Falls, Donavan Rogness, a modern-day “rebounder” looked at his hometown with fresh eyes and saw acres of opportunity. Like so many, after graduation, he ventured to the Fargo/Moorhead area, and along the way, gained expertise working on a variety of construction and development projects. Rogness closely watched the markets and kept a pulse on available inventory around Fergus Falls. He began reaching out to other local business owners and exploring partnership opportunities to reinvest in his hometown. Other project investors include Ryan Hanson, David Schroeder, Chris Buttke, Matt Skjeret, and Fargo resident Steve Noack; all of whom share the desire to grow Fergus Falls.

As evidenced by the growing number of vacant big-box department stores throughout the country, these large-store formats no longer meet the demands of our ever-changing market, and our former Shopko eventually met the same demise when the large retailer filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in January 2019, closing more than 100 stores nationwide. Rogness saw this vacant big box along the river as a tremendous opportunity and quickly made the move to partner with four other investors to establish River’s Edge Investments, created for the sole purpose of redeveloping the corner of Lincoln Avenue and Cascade Street (the former Shopko site).

Rogness said, “Having an opportunity to bolster growth in my hometown is incredibly rewarding. I’m grateful for the partnerships and shared vision to build on this dream.”

Rogness and his partners share in a vision to grow Fergus Falls. When the former Shopko site came on the market, they were attracted to this parcel due to its unique location on the Otter Tail River. Its location in downtown, scenic views, and enhanced walkability makes it a prime location for a modernized, mixed-use development.

Rogness turned to GFF for technical assistance and support in mid 2019. Redeveloping a vacant big box site can be difficult, and identifying tenants to occupy the building during the project’s due diligence phase was crucial. Identifying the need for additional warehouse space in our community to support the growth of local manufacturers, GFF worked with the Fergus Falls Planning Commission and City Council to amend the city ordinance to permit this on an interim basis in the big-box zoning districts. The city’s support on this ordinance change was a vital first step for Rogness and his team to move forward.

Because of this, the former Shopko building was sold to River’s Edge Investments in April of this year, and is now home to Balance Gymnastics Center and provides much needed warehouse space to local manufacturer, Vector Windows. This is a prime example of how communities can utilize vacant commercial spaces to incubate new business and foster expansion, ultimately, increasing the tax base; an effective re-use of a former big box.

Redevelopment projects take a considerable amount of time, and Rogness and his team are completing the due diligence necessary for Phase 1 of the proposed development, which requires additional public hearings and city consideration.

Pending approvals, Phase 1 is scheduled to break ground in the spring of 2021. This will include a four-story, mixed-use building, on the corner of Lincoln Avenue and Cascade Street. The building will be comprised of 7,500 square feet of commercial space on the main floor, and three floors of market-rate residential units. The proposed project aspires to provide Class A commercial space, additional housing opportunities downtown, and to increase foot traffic for downtown businesses. The commercial space proposed will be constructed to meet franchise site selection criteria, which will enhance GFF’s ability to attract new businesses. Phase 2 will include redevelopment of the former Shopko facility, pending the approval of Phase 1.

“Working with GFF has been critical throughout this entire process. I had a vision for the project and GFF helped make it happen. Without their assistance and expertise, this redevelopment project would not have been able to happen,” said Rogness.

The next step for River’s Edge is to apply for tax increment financing (TIF) from the city of Fergus Falls. TIF is an economic development tool used to subsidize redevelopment, infrastructure, and other community improvements by diverting taxes to help finance the project. TIF is a critical component needed to cash flow redevelopment projects that include blighted buildings. Without TIF projects such as this, cannot happen.

GFF CEO Annie Deckert says, “We (GFF) are beyond ecstatic about this major investment in downtown Fergus Falls. Mr. Rogness and his team have been a pleasure to work with, and the city’s support thus far demonstrates our community’s true desire to support growth and reinvestment in Fergus Falls. Utilizing TIF as an economic development tool, is a crucial component for riverfront redevelopment projects across the state. TIF allows developers to capture a portion of their future property tax payments, after the taxes paid, and provides the community with a project that maximizes the highest and best use of a property. We are fortunate that Rivers Edge Investments chose Fergus Falls.”

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