It takes two whole states to keep up with a destination this lively: On one side of the northflowing Red River, there’s Fargo, North Dakota, and on the Minnesota side, there’s Moorhead. Together, they’re an urban powerhouse that’s shaking up many people’s views of the Great Plains region. The visitors’ bureau declares the area to be decidedly “north of normal,” and touts the hip, eclectic vibe that comes from being home to three colleges and the biggest Microsoft campus outside Redmond, Washington.
The average low temperature in January is -2.3 degrees Fahrenheit, so it may seem that describing Fargo as “hot” is a bit of an oxymoron. But it has maintained a steady economy on the triumvirate of agriculture, oil and technology, so the adjective might be well-earned. The number of workers on the sprawling Microsoft Fargo campus, plus those working in nearby startups, mean that the area has a steady base of young, educated workers who care about living in a place that offers plenty to do in off-hours. And downtown Fargo has responded with a city center that’s decidedly thriving. “Our retail space on Broadway is at capacity,” says Jill Halvorson, director of sales at the Fargo-Moorhead Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Fargo in Popular Culture
“Fargo,” the movie, is an Academy Award– winning 1996 film named after the city. Fargo, the city, appears only briefly in the film’s opening scene, and none of the movie was shot in Fargo. “Fargo,” the FX television series, has been running for three seasons and is filmed in Calgary in Alberta, Canada. “Residents here embrace both the film and the television show with good humor,” Halvorson says. “In fact, you can pose with the movie’s original wood chipper, signed by the Coen brothers, at the Visitor Center.”
“We’re getting more requests for quirky and different venues—unique places a group can gather in addition to the hotel,” Halvorson says. Rustic Oaks, for example, is on a historic 1895 farmstead on the banks of the Red River. Operated by Anne and Dave Larson, the property features space for 250 in the renovated barn. The venue’s bed and breakfast, the historic Dromsted Inn, has 10 guest rooms. “The beauty and serenity of the property make it such a magical and peaceful place to gather,” says Emily Finley, who handles sales, marketing and event planning.
One of the region’s busiest restaurateurs is Dan Hurder, managing partner of Great Plains Hospitality, the creators of The Boiler Room. “It’s a basement-level restaurant in the heart of downtown Fargo,” Hurder says. “We have a semiprivate dining room that seats 40 people comfortably for dinner service, and we can accommodate larger parties of up to 70 for cocktail receptions.” Another of his group’s popular spots is Barbacoa, which offers a fusion of Southwest flavors and Midwest comfort. Barbacoa has two separate semiprivate dining areas that seat from 25-50 people.
Hurder’s Chef’s Table Catering is a full-service catering company operating out of the Sanctuary Events Center, a downtown Fargo event venue with room for more than 600 attendees standing and nearly 300 seated. Chef’s Table is also the exclusive caterer for Abovo Event Center, for parties up to 350 “We are a design and branding company that bought a 100-year-old hotel and converted it to our office space, along with an event center,” says Abovo Creative Director Andrew J. Young. “The space is also a high-end art gallery, so every time you hold an event here, you’ll have different art on the walls.”
As the biggest hotel in North Dakota, the Holiday Inn Fargo Hotel & Convention Center has 310 sleeping rooms and 27,000 square feet that can be configured into more than 20 different spaces. “We can accommodate anywhere from five to nearly 1,000 people,” says Director of Sales Megan Hook. “Meeting planners are happy that we have a coffee shop, full-service bar and restaurant on-site, as well as a casino. Customization is unlimited—we help planners get the meeting they want.” The property just completed a complete remodel earlier this year.
On the smaller side is Hotel Donaldson, a Fargo hotel since 1915. The hotel has 17 sleeping rooms, each featuring art from different local and regional artists, along with ample space for meetings. “We’re in the heart of downtown at 1st and Broadway, the most happening part of Fargo,” says Tanner Tweten, hotel manager. “We’re dedicated to creating memorable experiences by celebrating the community’s arts, and we’re very proud of what we have to offer.”
Other locations include Delta Hotels Fargo (formerly a Ramada Plaza & Suites), newly rebranded as a Delta by Marriott property and renovated this year. The property has 185 rooms and 23,000 square feet of meeting space. “We’re the home of Crystal Ballroom, the largest ballroom space in FargoMoorhead,” says General Manager Carol A. Johnson. “Everyone loves the new décor and everything we offer. You never need to leave the hotel, because everything is here. There’s an open feel with the lobby, restaurant, lounge and Starbucks all in one area.”
Radisson Blu Fargo, in the heart of downtown Fargo and connected to Broadway via skyway, has 151 rooms and 5,700 square feet of meeting space. The ballroom seats up to 280 guests.
Large Off-Site Venues
In addition to hotel meeting space, the area also offers several large-venue event locations. Across the street from the Radisson is the Fargo Civic Center, which hosts dozens of events throughout the year—including trade shows, conferences, basketball games and concerts. It has a maximum capacity of 1,300, four meeting rooms and 10,000 square feet for exhibits. Scheels Arena has a maximum capacity of 6,000, five meeting rooms and 63,260 square feet of exhibit space. There’s also the Fargodome, with a maximum capacity 25,000, nine meeting rooms and 80,000 square feet of exhibit space. Within the Fargodome is the Gate City Bank Theatre, which seats 3,400.
“One of the beautiful aspects of planning events in the Fargo-Moorhead area is the ease of getting around town,” Hurder says. “Downtown Fargo is extremely easy to navigate, allowing meeting planners to work with variety of unique venues to create an unforgettable experience for their attendees without having to travel inconvenient distances.”