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Second hearing to be held for Armory in Park Rapids

The armory building in downtown Park Rapids has significant deficiencies that need to be fixed before it can be used as a community center to foster arts and music in the community. (Anna Erickson/Enterprise)

After attorneys raised red flags on parts of an Armory Square developer's agreement, a second public hearing will need to be held in March.

The Armory Square redevelopment project has been in the works for about two and a half years already. Alan Zemek, who is heading up the potential redevelopment, wants the agreement to be finalized soon so he can get to work.

Zemek has plans to open Armory Square by June 2011 if all the pieces come together.

A Tax Increment Finance district was established last July after a first public hearing. Since that time, attorneys who have been drafting a developer's agreement are saying several changes will need to be made to the project, which were not reflected when the original TIF district was created.

The project received overwhelming support at the first TIF hearing. A second hearing has been scheduled for March 8.

Zemek has received several grants to assist in the cleanup of the property.

Financing of $300,000 was secured through the support of Congressman Jim Oberstar and Arlen Kangas, president of Midwest Minnesota Community Development Corporation.

A lot of preliminary cleanup and demolition work has been completed.

The developer's agreement will have deadlines for completing certain tasks and Zemek is asking for a best effort provision because it is an enormous project.

Due to severe environmental contamination, cleanup included removing petroleum, asbestos and lead paint.

Zemek has described his plan to redevelop the armory as the most difficult project he has pursued.

"It's really on me to turn this project around," he said.

The vision is for "Armory Square" to become an integrated mixed use commercial and civic facility.

He is proposing "pay-as-you-go" Tax Increment Financing due to the complex nature of the project. Then, the Park Rapids City Council could review it yearly.

Changes to the TIF plan will likely include updated tax increment projections, authorizing a pay-as-you-go" obligation with the developer, updates on sources and the use of funds and an update on the description of redevelopment plans.

The Park Rapids Armory, originally constructed in 1928, served the National Guard as an armory, training, and maintenance facility for more than sixty years. An addition was added in 1941 as a Works Projects Administration project to house vehicles for a mechanized infantry unit.

While it was in operation the armory was also served the community as overflow classrooms for the bourgeoning middle school, hosted athletic competitions and a wide variety of community events. The armory was closed in 1992 as part of a statewide consolidation of National Guard units, and has remained vacant for the last 18 years.

Zemek has said the redevelopment project will create 12-22 full time and seasonal jobs and contribute to the fulfillment of the 2008 Park Rapids' downtown revitalization plan.

Anna Erickson
Anna Erickson is editor of the Wadena Pioneer Journal.
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