Kenmare ND - Upside Down Under

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Upside Down Under

By Marvin Baker, a new weekly column in The Kenmare News


Do vacant buildings have value?...

Posted 1/26/21 (Tue)

You can take a look in any of the 53 counties in North Dakota and you will find vacant buildings.

Yes, even in Cass County, which holds about a sixth of the state’s population, you can find empty buildings if you look hard enough.

There’s been a tremendous amount of population growth in Fargo, West Fargo, Harwood, Horace, Kindred, Mapleton, Casselton and even Argusville, but vacant buildings are there. Maybe not many exist in Cass, but they’re there.

I’m not sure you’ll find any vacant buildings in the city of Fargo, but you sure will in Cass County.

This phenomenon is obviously from the shift in population from rural to urban since our population peaked previously in 1930.

There are two things that stand out regarding vacant buildings. No. 1, vacant farms and No. 2, vacant buildings on a small-town Main Street.

There has been some local discussion recently about the “bank” in Carpio. It’s a brick structure, built in 1904, two years after the Ward County town got its start.

It still sits there on Main Street and despite numerous attempts to change it, fix it, and even talk of demolishing it, the brick building stands.

There’s no doubt it could get some federal funding for renovation because of its age, but nobody is seriously willing to tackle that kind of work load.

The owner has turned over ownership with no strings attached, no cost, but the new owner has been slow to make changes.

That sounds like a pretty good deal, right? Perhaps, but it needs a lot of work and just getting an estimate of the repair costs would take some time to complete.

But if that building could talk, can you imagine what it might have to say? What was a small town like in 1904? How did the community react when we went to war in Europe in 1917, what happened in the bank when the stock market crashed in 1929? And, did it survive the Great Depression?

Another good example of how things have changed, is in Bowbells. In this case, it’s a hotel that lay vacant for several years, but some people came in and totally renovated it to look as new as it was in 1929.

Like the Carpio bank, this building is also brick and is for sale for $179,000. If you look at the pictures on the Trademark Realty website, you’ll see the renovation is most likely worth $179,000.

The problem is the location. Despite Bowbells being the Burke County seat, the population continues to shrink, leaving few people to stay in a hotel.

It’s on a main highway from the Canadian border to Minot, which has potential, but since the border has been closed because of COVID-19, you have to wonder how sure the Canadian dollar is now.

There are two more old buildings in North Dakota in which the locals took it upon themselves to make sure these historic structures would be renovated and put back into circulation.

One of the them is the Ellendale Opera House, built in 1908 and opening in 1909. This three-story brick structure was renovated and is now used for special events.

It once again sits prominently on the west side of Ellendale’s Main Street and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The second is the Roxy Theater in Langdon. This too, was a situation in which local residents decided they no longer wanted to look at this building sitting vacant on Main Street.

So in the late 1990s, the community went to work tearing out old seats and tile and putting down new. They fund raised so they could go through the building with a fine-tooth comb. They were also able to save the marquee and make it operational.

It was built in 1936, was put back into service and by 1998, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

There are undoubtedly other theaters, hotels and opera houses that meet that historic criteria and can be restored.

Old barns that have been torn down are repurposed as art, some old farm houses are disassembled and the lumber recycled for other building projects and in some cases, when downtown buildings are too far gone, they are demolished with brand new buildings springing up such as Main Street Market in Hazelton and West Side Square in Kenmare.

This kind of stuff doesn’t just happen and it isn’t free. It takes money and elbow grease to make it happen.

But some of these small communities refuse to die out. And often times it’s a special building that keeps it on the map.