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Bismarck Depot undergoing a refurbishment

Bismarck Depot
Dave Thompson
Bismarck Depot

The Northern Pacific Railroad Depot in Downtown Bismarck is being refurbished.

It operated as a passenger depot for both the NP and later Armtrak, until passenger service ended in 1979.

After that, it was home to a couple of restaurants and some other offices – but has been empty for a few years.

Now a developer is working on bringing that depot back to life.

“You get goose bumps thinking about the history here," said Cam Knutson, the developer whose company is now working to restore the old depot building. “This was the front door into Bismarck. Most people coming into town were coming by train. And as we look around this downtown area, this was the center of the universe for Bismarck."

Knutson said it also spurred the development of downtown Bismarck.

"“It’s pretty incredible, and pretty honoring to be a part of saying, ‘Hey-let’s honor bringing this building back to life, and all that it’s seen over the decades – but what does the next 50 years look like, and how do we honor that as well?” Knutson said.

And Kuntson said the architect who designed the building also worked on the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul.

“We’re standing outside this exterior wall here, and what we can see is this crushed marble, that was actually excess marble from the Minnesota State Capitol, that they threw on the trains, sent it here, and were then able to press in the outside of the building,” Knutson said. And he said finding the tiles for the roof turned out to be a bit of a challenge.

“Fortunately, that company still exists, that was able to source these custom tiles,” : Knutson said. He also said every step of refurbishing a building like the Depot comes with a lot of researching, and takes more time.

The plan is to have a restaurant in the building, on the main floor.

“We’re standing right now on the patio for that restaurant," Knutson said. "Knowing that we wanted that out in the front, we more than doubled the size of that patio. We have big, huge planter boxes going in, that will separate the parking lot, and really amplify that ambience.”

Knutson also said moving into the first floor will also have an events space. But he said his company is a development company, and didn’t want to create a separate events company. So he approached “Funatx,” a sister company of the Bismarck Larks baseball team.

“I said, ‘Hey – here’s the vision we had for this – we want to create the canvas, but turn it over to you guys that are phenomenal at putting on events and programming events.”

That’s on the first floor. Knutson says the second floor was what he called a “rough space.”

“That was a really hard space to visualize – what do we do with this?" Knutson said. So, he approached the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library Foundation – which was looking for a more permanent space.

“It was pretty cool to zoom back and think, ‘OK – if there was one property that has the strongest connection to President Teddy Roosevelt, it’s this building right here, where he had been on property a number of times.”

Knutson said he’s now looking for a tenant for the far eastern portion of the building, and to see what would be a good fit there.

“Whether it’s a little café or coffee shop – something along those lines would be good, Knutson said "We want something that would be an activator for downtown. Hopefully, if we get a tenant secure and start the buildout. We’re looking at completion of the full building, everything done by the early part of next year.”

Knutson says on the outside, things are looking the way they have for decades. As for the inside…

“The bones of this building are incredible," Knutson said. "And having those original items, the walls exposed – we’re able to go through and blast all sorts of years of plaster and paint, paint, paint and more plaster to get al lot of the walls exposed to their original look – the goal is to keep them pretty open. You have to modernize bathrooms and kitchens and some of those things, but otherwise, hey, let’s showcase what this building looked like at the very beginning, and let it speak for itself.”

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