Diva leaves downtown building calling it dangerous

Published: Feb. 13, 2020 at 7:10 PM CST
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Fargo was once a town of 600 that's grown to over 100,000 in the last century. Despite a fire that nearly wiped out downtown Fargo, it's persevered since the beginning.

The group of buildings on Main Avenue and 8th Street South is some of the places that survived the 1893 fire.

The block is home to the longest-standing women's clothing store, Downtown Diva. But that building is subject to compliant.

The tenants in the building next door ordered out because the space wasn't up to code.

The woman who's worked there for 31 years closed her shop for good. She thinks the buildings are too old and says she fears for her safety and everyone around it. City inspectors appear to disagree.

There is nothing that Marjorie Norris-Thompson loves more than glitz and glamour.

"It's the gym at five, and maintenance starts at nine," said Norris-Thompson.

She gets her hair and face done twice a week.

"I know I actually sleep on pillows that are elevated, much like a corpse only still breathing," said Norris-Thompson. "I don't want to mess my hair up. I could never have an affair because there would always be a trail of glitter in the house."

Over 100 thousand people have walked through Downtown Diva along 8th Street in Fargo. She's had 31 years of conversations.

"I'm childfree by choice, so I don't have children, but this store to me was a child," said Norris-Thompson.

"It was always a great joy to come to work, great joy," said Norris-Thompson. "I loved what I do."

But behind the Diva's showroom, it's not shiny earrings and martini glasses. She empties water from her second floor.

"Two and three and five times a day, I would come down here at 3:30 at night," said Norris-Thompson.

The water is coming from the big hole in her ceiling. She's had two sump pumps running and three tubs inside a kiddy pool.

"I've been doing this for about 25 years," said Norris-Thompson.

The basement isn't much better. Norris-Thompson says her basement's been leaking for decades. Not to mention the bathroom that was started but never finished.

Those are just some of the many problems with the historic building.

We did some digging and found out Downtown Diva, the Business College and the buildings in between on 8th Street South and Main Avenue are all owned by the same person.

The structures belong to Frank Leland Watkins and have been a part of his family since 1884. They survived the 1893 fire that nearly destroyed all of downtown Fargo.

While the building has passed city inspections, she believes without substantial repairs going inside her building could eventually mean life or death.

After sending an open records request to the city, we found out that within the three buildings, seven addresses, and multiple tenant spaces, only two permits were issued in the last 32 years for small work going on.

We found out that steps away from Downtown Diva is another building owned by Watkins.

The city posted this danger sign on 806 ½ Main Avenue. Reports show the tenant living here was told to leave because it's unsafe.

We asked the city why it was considered unsafe, as Downtown Diva passed inspections. This includes energy/insulation, footing and framing.

They said the tenant living in the building next door was told to leave because the basement wasn't up to code.

We took it a step further, asking the city if we could get a walkthrough on why inspections passed in downtown diva and not in 806 ½ Main Avenue.

The city denied that request.

We found complaints the city received about Downtown Diva.

An anonymous neighbor said they noticed a funky smell and some fine dust in the air. They say since it's such an old building, they are worried about what's in the air.

A customer named Eric Eid called the city to say he smelled sewer gas there.

As of now, Norris-Thompson has sold 31 years worth of stuff and left her building, before the building falls down on her or anyone else,

"Don't rent it again until you fix it," said Norris-Thompson. "Don't put someone else through this. Don't have an old lady up there bailing water in the middle of the night. I have a permanent shoulder injury from this."

Watkins did get back with us, saying he knows about the leaking roof in Downtown Diva but said tenant there said she was taking care of it with a sump pump and said not to worry about it.

Watkins says he's put a lot of money into the buildings, and they're not ready for demolition.

He says he's going to attempt to solve the roof problems now that she is gone.

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