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Businessman weighs options for commercial spaces in Fargo-Moorhead

Moorhead businessman Ken Martin has a number of ideas for ways of using empty commercial spaces in Moorhead and Fargo. Dave Olson/The Forum1 / 4
Ken Martin is pondering several possibilities for the former Days Inn in south Moorhad, including reviving Courtney's Comedy Club. Dave Olson/The Forum2 / 4
A large space in a strip mall in the 800 block of 30th Avenue South in Moorhead could become an entertainment complex. Dave Olson/The Forum3 / 4
Ken Martin is thinking of turning a space at 74 Broadway in Fargo into an event center. Dave Olson/The Forum4 / 4

MOORHEAD—The windows of a large commercial space on Broadway in downtown Fargo are blacked out, evoking curiosity and a sense of mystery: what might be happening behind the darkened glass?

The owner, Ken Martin, is hard-pressed himself to come up with an answer.

"I don't know what I'm going to do with that thing," said Martin, referring to the space at 74 Broadway, a storefront that was recently home to the Uptown Gallery.

"It's one of the better spaces in downtown Fargo," Martin added, stating he has been contemplating turning it into an event center.

For that to be feasible, however, would require a sprinkler system, a sizeable investment Martin isn't sure he wants to make.

"I've been thinking about going down the pathway of event center. Now, I don't know," said Martin, who has a number of other properties and business ideas on his mind.

Two of those properties are large spaces on the Moorhead side of the Red River.

One is the former Days Inn, a hotel Martin purchased and has been reconditioning as he contemplates options for the space.

The other is a large space in a strip mall in the 800 block of 30th Avenue South.

According to Forum archives, the strip mall opened in 1974 with Osco Drug-Buttrey Foods the primary tenant in the space Martin now owns.

Buttrey Foods changed its name to Sunmart Foods in 1986.

In 1999, Sunmart closed the store in the strip mall and moved it a few blocks north to 2605 8th St. S., in Moorhead. That store, which eventually became a Family Fare store, closed a few weeks ago and is now empty, too.

After the former Buttrey store closed, the space sat largely vacant until a hardware store set up shop around 2006.

The hardware store is now gone as well.

In 2014, Martin said he was planning an entertainment complex for the former Buttrey site.

He talked about attractions that included a sports bar and brewery; a video gaming room; bowling lanes; a two-story laser tag area and a banquet room.

The complex, however, has yet to materialize.

Martin said the reason for that is that funding for the project fell through several years ago when he initially attempted to proceed with renovations.

He said the same problem occurred last summer when he again tried to gather the resources needed to do the project.

"So, now I'm on hold again," said Martin, a developer of commercial real estate and owner of the Exchange Station in south Moorhead, a large store that sells a variety of things, including furniture, in addition to being a pawn shop.

In the case of the former Days Inn, Martin said remodeling of the building interior is ongoing, though just what will become of the property remains uncertain.

Martin said with its large kitchen, the building could be a venue for banquets and he hinted an event center may be in the offing as well.

Also, he said that with its approximately 165 rooms the property could also become a hotel again, or possibly an assisted living, or collaborative living center.

For now, he said he's keeping all of his options open.

One thing he is focused on achieving is reviving a comedy club that was once part of the building.

"It's known for Courtney's Comedy Club. So, we want to get that back," Martin said.

Cindy Graffeo, executive director of the Moorhead Economic Development Authority, said Martin's proposed project in the former Buttrey space still holds the potential to make use of a tax break Martin obtained from the city.

If the project moves forward, the tax exemption could provide about $96,000 in tax savings over five years.

"His ideas are good. I would love to see them happen," Moorhead Mayor Del Rae Williams said of Martin's proposed projects.

"We can always use another hotel," she said, adding that Martin's idea for an entertainment complex would probably be met with approval by the public.

"I can see people liking that," she added.

Dave Olson
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