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Fosston downtown development among projects following 2013 fire

Fosston mayor Jim Offerdahl, left, and Mark Finseth of Ultima Bank show some of the projects that the city is undergoing to redevelop downtown business property. A new chiropractic clinic is under construction in the background. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald1 / 2
Lee Meier, Northwest Minnesota Multi-County Housing and Redevelopment Authority, discusses the public/private spec. house that NWMN Multi-County HRA and the city of Fosston built in the Fairlawn addition of Fosston to encourage home buying in the city. At left are Fosston city administrator/clerk Chuck Lucken and Mark Finstad, Ultima Bank. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald2 / 2

FOSSTON, Minn. — The face of Fosston is changing.

Less than a year after a major fire destroyed Fosston Chiropractic Clinic and three residential apartments, new commercial buildings are rising where the old building and others once stood, at the intersection of U.S. Highway 2 and Johnson Avenue, the focal point of downtown. 

The new construction is part of a five-year redevelopment program that has spread throughout this eastern Polk County community of 1,530.

Within the past couple of years, the city has expanded its industrial park and attracted two new manufacturing businesses that employ about 80, built new wastewater treatment facilities and made improvements at Fosston Municipal Airport.

More than 200 jobs have been created in the past five years in Fosston, located about 70 miles east of Grand Forks.

In addition, Essentia Health-Fosston has expanded its clinic. A new helipad also is being built just outside the clinic in a public-private partnership.

An estimated $5 million in public and private funds are being used for the downtown development project, along with the hospital helipad construction, according to Mark Finseth, president of Ultima Bank Minnesota and a board member with the Northwest Minnesota Multi-County Housing and Redevelopment Authority.

“Blight leads to blight and investment leads to investment. Fosston is really taking a lead on this,” he said.

Fire sparks growth

While some downtown businesses have had storefront improvements over the past few years, the most visible signs of change have come this year, since the December 2013 fire, when owner Gabe Wiener immediately committed to rebuilding.

“The fire was the catalyst,” Mayor Jim Offerdahl said. “We’ve gotten rid of some blighted buildings, but it was the fire that started the whole ball of wax.”

Since then, the city has demolished the old clinic, as well as an abandoned gas station, a building that housed Farmers Union Insurance and two vacant buildings on the east side of the street.

In their place will be the new Fosston Chiropractic Clinic and a new restaurant, both with on-street and off-street parking.

The project also includes a downtown street and utilities improvement project.

The city obtained nearly $1 million in grants and loans for the downtown redevelopment. That included; a $277,500 grant through Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development; a $576,000 loan from the Minnesota Public Facilities Authority for infrastructure improvements; and a $122,400 DEED Contamination Clean-up grant to remove underground tanks on the old gas station property.

Around town

Besides the downtown redevelopment and the Essential Health Clinic improvements, other development is occurring throughout the community.

The $200,000 helipad project is being financed through Essential Health, First Care Foundation and the Minnesota Department of Health.

“I just love these public-private partnerships,” Finseth said.

The helipad will save an estimated 20 minutes or more in emergency patient transfers from Fosston to Essential Hospital in Fargo or other health care facilities, Offerdahl said. Currently, ambulances transport patients from the clinic to the Fosston airport, about located 1.5 miles west of town, where they then are transferred to helicopters.

Other construction is underway or planned around the community. Among the projects:

  •  Consolidated Equipment Group, part of Erskine Attachments, an Erskine, Minn., manufacturer of attachments for compact tractors, skid steers as well as all-terrain vehicles, is expanding from 45 to 60 employees just a year after opening in Fosston’s industrial park.
  •  Fosston Co-op Elevator Association is planning a $1 million expansion in 2015.

Building and recruiting

A new Fairlawn Park residential housing neighborhood is being developed on the south side of town.

It’s a partnership between the city, private developers and the Northwest Minnesota HRA.

The HRA is nearing completion of a spec house — a single-family house built by a developer in anticipation of finding a buyer — in Fairlawn Park. The house, with about 1,280 square feet on the main floor as well as in the unfinished basement, is being listed at $198,900, according to Lee Meier, HRA executive director, not counting the available incentives.

The community’s Build Fosston program provides $10,000 cash rebates and up to $10,000 in down payment assistance to people who build new homes, townhouses or condos in the community.

“The idea is to have a new home on the market and have it reasonably priced,” Meier said.

Another housing development is being planned on the north side of the community.

“This growth has had a cascading effect,” Finseth said. “What’s going on here is quite exciting.”

Fosston is centrally located, 45 to 50 miles from Bemidji, Crookston and Thief River Falls.

“There’s room to grow here,” the mayor said. “Now, we have to let more people know about the community and what it has to offer.”

Kevin Bonham

Kevin Bonham covers regional news, mostly from northeast North Dakota, for the Grand Forks Herald. A North Dakota native who grew up in Mandan and Dickinson, he has been a reporter or an editor with the Herald and Forum Communications for more than 30 years. Find his articles at: He welcomes story ideas via email,, or by phone, (701) 780-1110.  

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