Stage is set for FMCT move to Moorhead

Nancy Edmonds Hanson

The Hjemkomst Center may add a new attraction to its focus on history later this year, setting the stage for more cultural activities and traffic at the city-owned museum.

According to city manager Dan Mahli, the board of the Fargo-Moorhead Community Theatre is reviewing the city’s response to its request to lease the Heritage Hall – the main floor gallery – in the iconic downtown landmark.

The Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County, which now stages exhibits in the area, will continue to anchor the center, as it has since its opening in 1986. That includes its historical exhibits as well as its archives, permanent collections, work areas and administrative offices, all in the lower levels. The society also provides interpretive services for two city-owned landmarks, the Norwegian-style Hopperstad Stave Church on its grounds and the Hjemkomst, a replica Viking ship that its creators sailed across the Atlantic in 1982.

The city’s offer also includes a new three-year professional service agreement including additional exhibit space to substitute for Heritage Hall, fees, management responsibilities and other issues. It follows a series of leases that have been renewed and adapted since 2009, when the HCSCC was formed from the merger of the troubled Heritage Hjemkomst Interpretive Center that had managed the facility since its opening in 1986 and the venerable Clay County Historical Society, founded in 1932.

The nonprofit historical organization has long shared parts of the building with other tenants. About half of the space in the original building and its 2005 addition accommodates the Moorhead Parks and Recreation Department’s Senior Connections, along with another tenant, the Fargo-Moorhead-West Fargo Chamber of Commerce. The chamber has shared its intent to move at the end of its lease in 2024.

Since late 2020, the Moorhead City Council and other city committees have also been meeting in the Hjemkomst Center’s auditorium – a move propelled by the Covid-19 pandemic. The Clay County Public Health Department is occupying temporary quarters in the atrium area, where nurses and volunteers offer vaccinations to the public. RiverKeepers hosts educational events for children in its meeting rooms, along with operating canoe and kayak rentals on the river.

The center and adjacent Viking Ship Park are busiest during the Historical and Cultural Society’s big annual festivals. The largest, Pangea, includes music, dance, lectures and food, bringing thousands to celebrate the region’s rich ethnic diversity. The Scandinavian Hjemkomst and Midwest Viking Festival normally takes place there in June. (Both have been disrupted by the pandemic but plan to return.)

The FMCT approached the city in February, according to manager Mahli. The organization was weighing alternate venues after its 50-year-old theatre on Island Park in Fargo was seriously damaged in December 2019 and deemed unsafe. Since then, the theatre company has been operating in a variety of settings, including its black-box setting, Studio 6, on Broadway and its current dinner-theatre production, “Murder in the Library,” at the TAK Music Venue Friday through Sunday.

If endorsed by the FMCT and HCSCC boards of directors, the new arrangement could begin as early as this summer.

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