An Urban Legend

Urban and North Dakota. These words are rarely used in the same sentence, but architectural and engineering design firm ICON Architectural Group is changing this perception. Hailed “A City Within a City,” Urban Plains paints a new vision for the city of Fargo, and introduces “new urbanism” to the region. And the prized jewel of the development is the UP Center--a $44 million, 15-acre, five-rink complex that is expected to draw hundreds of thousands of visitors every year.

In today's dynamic and challenging times, new trends (in federal funding, corporate social responsibility, economic development and consumer demands) are emerging for working assets that contribute to their own operating cost, and drive continued progress. This is particularly true in the parks and recreation industry, where assets have historically been built and forgotten. But the industry’s importance is growing in the public consciousness as it presents opportunity--economic vibrancy, quality of living, place making, tourism, resident retention and property-value enhancements--and can serve as a catalyst for attracting visitors to play and stay.

In conceiving the Urban Plains project and, in particular, the UP Center, ICON operated under the premise that becoming a leading public steward of natural and recreational public assets gives the project a platform for adopting cost-effective strategies that are likely to become the standards of support tomorrow.

“We put a lot of time into designing a project that can sustain itself financially for a community. We pride ourselves on being involved in a project and sharing some of the risk and the reward,” says Project Director Mike Kuntz. “This will host shows, concerts, exhibits--these are the types of events that show how quality of life is improved with an arena that doesn’t strap the city for millions and millions of dollars.”

A LEED-er In Sustainability And Savings

As one of only nine LEED-NC registered projects in North Dakota, going green never seemed so smart.

While the gradual evolution of the green economy has almost overnight become a revolution of the national economy, green building is still a relatively new concept in North Dakota. Indeed, the UP Center is ushering in a new era of real estate by creating a fresh vision that will enhance occupant health and productivity, lower operating costs, increase building longevity, be environmentally conscious, and take the athlete and fan experience to an entirely new level.

This marquee building boasts innovative, green-design solutions, and is seeking LEED-NC silver certification. Laying claim to the first and only facility with waterless urinals in North Dakota, the UP Center includes a variety of groundbreaking design elements that dramatically reduce energy and water usage at the arena, including:

· Dual-flush toilets and low-flow showerheads and faucets

· Reflective EPDM white membrane-roofing system

· Recycled plastic “lumber” for benches and shelving throughout the arena

· An extensive on-site, storm-water management system that controls and circulates rainwater and groundwater through natural filtration ponds, aeration and vegetation

· Motion sensors for restroom- and locker-room lighting controls.

Kuntz notes that North Dakota is one of a handful of states that do not allow the use of waterless urinals, but after petitioning the North Dakota State Plumbing Board, the state permitted ICON to install waterless urinals as an experiment for future buildings. “There will be a lot of people here for tournaments, so it is a great place to try these amenities,” he adds. Impressively, this effort, along with the dual-flush toilets, will save one-million gallons of water annually.

Along with these green initiatives, the entire Urban Plains project will employ an extensive, district-wide geothermal system that utilizes heat stored in the earth--rather than fossil fuels--to heat and cool buildings. In the case of cooling the UP Center, ice compressors are necessary to cool the ice rink floors enough to ensure the floor remains solid. In doing so, they produce a great deal of heat or energy that normally goes to waste. Specially designed geothermal compressors will capture this waste energy to heat the arena and other structures, part of the master plan during the harsh North Dakota winters.

Beyond creating an inimitable fan experience through green design, ICON was able to control costs through the selection of green materials and design elements. Whereas similarly sized projects typically cost between $40 million and $80 million--with much of the funding provided by public sources--the UP Center will only cost $25 million. “As a private development project, we can control costs and keep it under $30 million,” Kuntz notes. “A lot of communities around the country in outlying suburbs would never vote to take on a $200-million debt. Anyone can spend $100 million, but trying to do it for $25 million is another story.”

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Our nation’s storied economic, environmental and energy crises came to a head during the construction of the UP Center, and when the U.S. credit industry initially froze, one of the project’s financiers revoked the bond security for the UP Center. But, as with many public-assembly facilities, the host community didn’t want to see this visionary project sit idle. Civic pride loomed large, and local banks forged together to ensure the timely opening of the UP Center.

“A group of local banks rallied to pull the thing up by its bootstraps and keep it going,” Kuntz says. “It’s a high-profile type project, and people are drawn to it. It’s unique, it’s very fun and very rewarding, the public gets to enjoy it, and the kids will be a part of the facility sooner or later.”

But financing was just one of a few hurdles Kuntz and his team had to jump.

The painstaking process of securing LEED certification has been precisely that. Green is not about single systems, but about how things work with each other, systems that complement one another. But the project was built on prime farmland, which created a host of new connectivity considerations and obstacles to securing a green pedigree.

And while financing and sustainability initiatives are resource-intensive in their own right, the project endured another problem when vandals broke into the job site. During the course of the UP Center’s construction, its roof structure was damaged by two men who errantly took over cranes on the job site and caused more than $750,000 damage. The construction schedule was set back several weeks, but the project was still completed in time for the home opener of the Fargo Force, the U.S. Hockey League expansion franchise, led by famed Head Coach Dean Blais.

Beyond the UP Center

The UP Center is but one asset among the entire Urban Plains master-planned community that will raise the national standard for sustainable living with housing, commerce, dining, healthcare, retail, outdoor recreation and sports and entertainment, all residing in one dynamic, thriving community. When all phases are completed, the Urban Plains project aims to serve as an incubator to sustainable living.

Among the amenities will be:

· Brandt Park--designed to be the “Central Park” of North Dakota, this public park will feature 24 acres of open space, more than 10 miles of oversized park trails, an amphitheater, a boardwalk, a farmer’s market and a host of sports and events

· A 10-acre lake that will accept rain runoff to filter naturally

· Professional office space designed with sustainable solutions to enhance occupant health and productivity, lower operating costs, increased

uilding longevity and environmentally conscious

· A mixed-use development that includes senior housing and numerous dining and retail opportunities.

Together, these assets culminate in a vibrant and bustling destination that merges convenience and technology in a “new urbanism-inspired,” community-centric, walkable development.

Refashioning The Public-Assembly Facility

It is incumbent upon public-assembly facilities to devise creative ways to cement their relationships with key audiences, and to position themselves to engender public support. By building to a scale that the Fargo region could handle, but with a nod toward future challenges and opportunities, ICON was able to secure buy-in and build excitement for a dynamic project whose green pedigree and multi-function vision will undoubtedly serve as a catalyst for attracting residents and visitors to play and stay.

“Urban Plains is a replicable model of sustainable living. Specifically, the recent opening of the UP Center is a great example of how this development will build community, by providing a public gathering space, an asset to the region, as well as taking architecture to a new level,” says Kuntz. “Urban Plains will dramatically enhance the quality of life for individuals who choose to live, work, or play here.”

For more information about ICON, please visit To learn more about Urban Plains, please visit

Meghan Krause is Director of Sustainability and Strategy for GreenMark, a sustainability-focused communications agency for clients who seek to spur economic growth, improve the environment, or build community.