Bismarck City Commissioners approved spending almost $200,000 to fill an unusual underground space downtown.
But as Barbara Sharp reports, this investment will open the door for an even larger project.
Beneath this sidewalk lies something ancient.
It's continued existence is threatening the life of this building.
It's an old vault -- two vaults to be precise.
But you won't find antiquities, bones or billions.
Actually, these vaults are rooms that encroach on the public right-of-way and extend underneath the sidewalk.
The problem is the ceilings of the vaults are deteriorating, exposing the underside of the sidewalk.
City Commissioners have acted to solve the problem by authorizing filling the underground space at a cost of $196,000.
Doing so will not only reinforce the sidewalks, but clear the way to breath new life into the Cowen Building -- and generate income for the City.
Jason Tomanek, City of Bismarck, Planner: "It is the only contiguous, historic block of property that we have where there are no gaps. There are no holes. There is simply an alley. The fiscal impacts that go along with the property taxes are pretty easy to calculate. It's roughly an eight-to-ten year . . . payback on the investment that's being made by the City using the current mill levels."
Once the vaults are filled, there are big plans for the property.
Loran Galpin, Developer: "Our goal is to do, main floor is going to be a combination of retail that I think the community is really going to enjoy. We're also in the process of looking at offices for second through at least fourth. Fifth floor might very well be some nice office, I mean apartment suites, but I think time will tell. It's going to be special."
So while these vaults won't be filled with anything valuable, filling them will increase the value of this building, this block and this region of downtown -- and unleash tax revenue and business for the area.
The Cowan Building on the corner of 4th and Broadway has been empty for the past year, and the upper floors empty for the better part of a decade.
Asbestos removal and work to fill the vaults -- which are actually old shops -- will begin within the next two weeks.
Major construction is expected to commence early May.