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The time has come for development of a downtown public plaza, the owner of the Bismarck Depot says.

Depot Plaza, complete with such elements as a public skating rink and outdoor event space, was a proposed project included in the Downtown Bismarck Subarea Plan. In an effort to prompt the next stage of the project, owner Dale Zimmerman put the former train depot building on the market Wednesday for $4.25 million.

When it was published in late 2013, the city’s downtown plan called for renovation of the historic building as well as development of the outside space for public use, calling it “downtown’s living room.”

Rather than leaving the project to the city, the Zimmerman family took the first steps in 2014, purchasing the depot and shoring it up structurally to “make sure the building was taken care of,” said Zimmerman, adding that $3 million was invested by his family in the space.

Now Zimmerman wants to sell the building to a foundation or charity that’s willing to raise money and build out the plaza portion. Edwinton Brewing, the restaurant and brewery Zimmerman runs out of the west end of the building, would ideally rent the space from the new building owners.

Zimmerman said the buyer would get the building complete with updated heating, air, plumbing and electric. Edwinton's could bring in rental income to the new owner — $8,000 per month for 10 years — and the east end of the building could be built out in whatever way the buyer saw fit — perhaps a space for winter ice skate rental.

Zimmerman estimates the cost of the plaza to be about $6 million. His family has already paid for renderings and architectural plans, as well as the necessary engineering and site work, he said.

In this proposed plan, there's an outdoor stage area that would house the ice rink in the winter. There's also a public fountain with green space in the center to perch a community Christmas tree.

In the subarea plan, estimated cost for Depot Plaza was $8.5 million.

The proposed project is similar in some ways to development that took place in downtown Rapid City, S.D.

Main Street Square was built in Rapid City eight years ago for $6.5 million. It was paid for by a combination of city and privately fundraised dollars, said Dan Senftner, CEO of Destination Rapid City.

Those that donated did it to improve the quality of life in the community, not for a return, Senftner said.

“That truly was a gift for the community,” he said.

Destination Rapid City now operates Main Street Square, running 200 events annually with a 14-person staff and a $1 million budget. The money for operations comes from concessions, rentals, sponsorships and about $200,000 in special tax dollars collected from surrounding businesses that reap the benefit of increased downtown visitorship, Senftner said. He says the operations model could be scaled down.

“It’s how you want to do it,” he said.

Senftner said he has since consulted with 11 cities on how they could operate something similar. Among those are Casper, Wyo., with David Street Station and Caldwell, Idaho, with Indian Creek Plaza.

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Reach Jessica Holdman at 701-250-8261 or jessica.holdman@bismarcktribune.com

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Business Reporter