[RiverHaven Events Center, Moorhead]
Story by Tracy Nicholson
Finished photography by Dan Francis Photography
Front exterior & patio images provided by Kayla Cash
Progress photos by Aaron Duma
While the pandemic may have sidelined the grand opening of the new RiverHaven Events Center in April, we're still celebrating the renovation within our pages. We'll take you back in time to chronicle the project and show you how the partners have beautifully transformed this historic space, paying homage to its treasured past and panoramic river views. You are cordially invited to an exclusive tour inside the preservation of one of Moorhead's most beloved landmarks.
A DESTINATION ON THE REd
Welcome to the new RiverHaven Events Center in historic Davy Memorial Park on the Red River. Originally erected out of fieldstone in 1936 as an American Legion, the building's purpose has been ever-evolving. While it's spent the past few years as a destination restaurant, some locals felt it had a brighter future with a bigger calling.
For nearly 15 years, Aaron Duma had a vision of what the interior space could be - if only it wasn’t broken up into three separate areas. From 2006 to 2014, Duma operated the space when it was Broken Axe and then Usher's House - he even met his wife here while they were both employed as bartenders. "For years, it bothered me that we could have only 70 people in each of the three separated spaces, but we couldn't have 200 in one unified area. It made for a really dysfunctional space, yet people were willing to make that sacrifice because they loved the building so much," said Duma.
When it was a restaurant, Duma was continually getting requests from people wanting to book it as a venue, but he knew locked doors would be frustrating for their regular diners. "We needed to commit to one or the other. I was never able to convince the partners, so eventually, I left to do my own little project, which was going to be a small beer bar downtown; that project turned into Sanctuary Events Center in Downtown Fargo" said Duma. "In year five now, with 241 events last year, our biggest problem has been having a
really full calendar."
When this beloved property went on the market, Duma jumped at the opportunity, hoping to give Moorhead the spectacular and historic event space the community needed. To take on the building and its extensive transformation, it took five owners: Jade Nielsen, Aaron Duma, Ted Duma, Kayla Cash and Jon Rustvang.
With a 1,000 square foot glass room overlooking the river, patio, and park, along with its historic fieldstone facade, the partners knew this property had endless potential. As a bonus, the building's landscape was once home to the city's zoo. Ninety years later, guests remain enamored with the park's old bear cage, crumbling, yet still a visual treasure through the building's towering windows. These are just a few of the structure's picture-perfect backdrops that bridal parties have fallen in love with.
To kick off the project, the partners brought in a structural engineer, debating on whether they could successfully open up the disconnected space. This was a necessity if they wanted to remove the middle wall and create a ceremony aisle. "Removing the wall was a major challenge because the middle had a chimney that was supporting thousands of pounds of natural cut fieldstone. We had to keep the stone; it had a lot of blood, sweat, and tears in it, being built in 1936 at the height of the depression," explained Duma. "A guy could come down here, they'd throw him a chisel and a mallet, then he'd get one or two stones done a day, depending on the size."
"The fieldstone that was removed was too beautiful to discard, so a lot of strenuous hours were spent cleaning the stone and preserving it for future use around the property," said Nielsen. "Every stone we cut out was salvaged for future projects like the curbside signage and patio projects."
Another large project was relocating the kitchen, which was a major obstruction separating the two main floor spaces. They now have a newly refreshed prep kitchen, rebuilt and moved to a more appropriate space in the lower level.
Taking out the main floor kitchen and upper loft allowed the team to create a special entrance for the wedding couple off to the side; a half-spiral staircase down to the lower level's bridal party lounges. "This design allows for the bridal party to utilize this side staircase and be right at the entrance to the ceremony aisle, as they walk into the glass-walled room," explained Duma.
EXPANDING THE VIEW
Beyond the partner's new floorplan, electrical, and relocation of the kitchen, Cash, Duma, and Nielsen have managed the venue's cosmetic work, opting to paint the dark-stained wood panels a bright white, then choosing new flooring and lighting throughout. "They used to have the ceiling painted black, with panels to bring it down further, so we decided to have the whole ceiling exposed and glass blasted to strip it down. We loved the idea of doing a clean white from floor-to-ceiling, then letting the ceiling be a natural wood," said Duma.
"It was important to bring the beauty from the glass dining room all the way through, expose the pitched roof, and open the space to serve as one expansive area. Making these changes has more than doubled the capacity of usable space and brought in a huge amount of natural light," said Cash.
If you're looking for event specialists with tried and true experience, RiverHaven is a prime choice. Aaron Duma, the venue's General Manager and partner, has over 18 years of extensive food and beverage experience, nine of which were in this building. Jade Nielsen, partner and founder of Jade Presents, has 30 years of concert, festival and live events experience. Cash, a partner and Director of Sales for both Sanctuary and RiverHaven, has worked with over 700 wedding couples, and hundreds of corporate clients in the F-M area.
While RiverHaven welcomes all vendors, they currently have three approved caterers and will allow desserts and cakes through licensed and professional businesses. All beverages will be handled through in-house services.
CUSTOMIZED EVENT DESIGN
With an array of beautiful backdrops inside and out, RiverHaven offers hosts the ability to customize their settings to meet their seasonal and special needs. "While they're having dinner in the open expanse, we can rework the glass-walled ceremony space to create a dance area overlooking the river," explained Duma. "It also gives people the option to have their ceremony on the patio, with a dinner inside. In the summertime, the patio is perfect for a band and dance floor."
BRIDAL PARTY BLISS
With its new access from the bridal staircase and also the foyer, RiverHaven's downstairs is nearly ready to be revealed. The partners have reworked the old lower banquet area to create a new commercial kitchen, an ADA and family compliant restroom, two dressing rooms and a spacious bridal party and family lounge. One dressing suite is complete with soft seating, a mini bar table and flat-screen TV. The second suite will feature exposed brick, white ash shiplap, and a wall perfect for hair and makeup stations.
Throughout the lower level, cosmetic changes have brightened the overall space and exposed the original brick. They've also brought in soft seating and wingback chairs for guests to lounge comfortably by the redesigned fireplace. For a custom touch, the team is working with both Tom Kemmer and Dakota Timber Company to bring in reclaimed wood for the fireplace's new mantel, barn doors and makeup vanity tops.
"The building is so beloved by the community that we felt an immense pressure to do things right," said Cash. "A lot of people have created memories in this space over the years, and many had a strong opinion in the building’s fate, so we had pressure to deliver a venue that exceeds expectations. We feel that we have accomplished this and we're very proud of the revitalized space."
"Moorhead residents don’t have a lot of options when it comes to event space, so we love that we can offer a beautiful venue in the heart of downtown Moorhead for them. It's a perfect place to hold corporate events, private events and weddings," said Duma. "We’ve been sharing renovation photos with previous Usher’s House employees who worked in this building, along with long-time customers and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. The building is unrecognizable to some, and everyone has been amazed at how much we were able to do with the space."
FOLLOW RIVERHAVEN FOR UPDATES!
As ready as the partners are to introduce the venue to the public, they're currently on hold, awaiting updates to the state's guidelines regarding pandemic concerns. "Like other businesses, we are taking things one week at a time," said Cash. "We had events scheduled to begin in April, so we have been adjusting and moving them to later dates as needed. We are hoping to be open in May as we have clients eager to hold their graduation events, private events, and summer weddings starting soon after. We are working closely with all clients to ensure that when we are officially open for business, that it’s safe for all guests and our staff."
Make sure to check their website and follow them on social media for the upcoming grand opening and event announcements.
For more information, contact:
RiverHaven Events Center
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