NDSU Magazine logoS - Fall 2004

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Fall 2004

Vol. 05, No. 1


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Fargo's Cool

Fargo's cool

Topic: How the one-year-old Hotel Donaldson has become an icon of cool, how it surprises non-North Dakotans who did not expect to find such interesting people in such a groovy place.

Example: Owner Karen Burgum's been the first stop when the national media come to Fargo.

Such as: L.A. Times, the first to discover the new home of cool, says the city has "quietly, subversively gone trendy." National Public Radio talked about how North Dakota has low unemployment and is adding high-tech jobs, and becoming known for "hipness." NBC's Today Show did a similar piece.

What they're saying: The national reporters note that the new Hotel Donaldson is upscale, boutique and would be right at home in New York. The hotel rooms, the bar the dining room, all urban chic. But this place could only be in this region. Bison fur is used to cover some stools, the bar curves in homage to the Red River, the dining room chairs are etched in a pleasing shape to follow the Red River.

Burgum's a good spokeswoman: Colleagues call her the "Godmother of downtown," for adding hip and chic to the locale. Plus, she can talk about the movie without cringing. "I love the Coen brothers," she says, "And I love the opportunity to dispell stereotypes."

She says we're all cool: Burgum is happy enough that the Hotel Donaldson has become an icon for newcomers to understand the community and the region. "They're surprised when they walk into the hotel because they had a stereotype," she says. But her point of view is that the hotel is simply a reflection of the people who live in Fargo and North Dakota. "This project couldn't be anywhere else because it really is about who we are in this region," she says, in virtually all of the interviews.

The local art is the crowning touch: OK, so three years ago, Burgum has a great old building to work with, an architect she's crazy about, it's moving along nicely. And yet, for a time, she feels something is missing. "In thinking about what the rooms would look like," she says, "they didn't have a soulfulness." This was troublesome. Her goal from the beginning was to "create memorable experiences" and so simply pretty and nice would not be good enough. And so she continued to fret, until "that little bit of discord opened up" a great idea: The rooms would be designed around the work of local artists.

The lunchroom/bar also is full of local art: The room comes off as part bar/restaurant, part crazy Aunt Nellie's furniture collection. After the initial shock wears off, the curved lime green chair next to the bright orange bench seat seems just right. And if you get a good seat in one of the booths on the north side, or one of the bison stools, you can spend hours looking at the large mosaic that covers the wall on the hallway to the bathrooms. Mostly tile, some granite, and a few broken coffee cups, it also holds a lava lamp, a Waterford champagne flute, the cover to a cellular telephone. There are paintings, sculptures, a photograph. It's cool.

Student Focused. Land Grant. Research University.