Park Rapids moves closer to Armory Square ownership
By Anna Erickson
The city of Park Rapids has taken the next step in moving forward with ownership of Armory Square.
The city council met as the Economic Development Authority Tuesday and passed a resolution approving a redevelopment plan for Armory Square. The vote was 3-2 with Mayor Pat Mikesh and councilmember Erika Randall dissenting. Councilmembers Dave Konshok, Rod Nordberg and Paul Utke voted in favor of the resolution.
The decision was not made lightly. All councilmembers said they were in support of the project but had issues with parts of the proposal.
The Park Rapids Finance Committee met last week to review a more detailed proposal from developer Alan Zemek and the Park Rapids Community Development Corporation. At Tuesday’s meeting the development plan was reworked to address some concerns brought up at the previous meeting.
“We have more details than we’ve ever had,” Konshok said.
The total cost being asked for is $2.65 million.
The source of the funding would come from possible state bonding funds ($2.3 million) and developer financing ($350,000). The $350,000 would help to finish renovations in parts of the Armory.
Zemek said the Armory project would be complete at that point and have no debt. The city would get all of its money back, he said.
The $2.65 million would go to pay several loans outstanding.
The state bonding funds are not finalized. Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL – Clearbrook, said he was including the Armory project in the Senate bonding bill, which has not yet been presented.
The House bill was proposed this week and the Armory was not included in that proposal.
Aaron Chirpich, Development Director with Headwaters Regional Development Commission, is working with Zemek and the PRCDC on the development plan.
The plan includes additional work to bring the Armory up to code and to a workable state in all areas including HVAC work, ADA accessibility work, floor coverings, wall finishing and a catering kitchen.
“The former National Guard Armory will be completed by the developer to a condition suitable for public use as a multi-purpose community facility,” the plan states. “Performance of the work to be completed will be proven by an inspection of the facility by the building official and a report to the finance committee that the scope of work to be accomplished had been completed.”
Randall was concerned, however, that the auditorium wouldn’t have seating, a stage, tables or other amenities.
“There has always been an anticipated fundraising campaign,” Nordberg said.
The Park Rapids Lakes Area Arts Council has expressed interest in fundraising for those types of amenities.
Several members of the community attended the meeting to give input to the city about taking ownership.
Hubbard County Board chair Kathy Grell said she applauds the council for tackling this huge issue.
She told the council that all of their questions can’t be answered up front. Park Rapids has always tried to be different than other communities and that has worked well.
“The biggest risk is having an empty building,” she said, adding that the council might need to take a leap of faith.
Citizen Mark Bridge added that the city can’t sit idle and needed to take a risk to make things happen.
Citizen Dick Rutherford said it might be a good deal but didn’t like the idea of taxpayers in the city of Park Rapids possibly being hit again.
“Why not let the county have it?” he asked. “I’m serious.”
He suggested that those who used the facility would be coming from outside the community.
Former Park Rapids Mayor Nancy Carroll has been a supporter of the project since she was on the council.
“I think it’s our best chance for this generation to make something happen,” she said.
Citizen John Rassmussen said the city has done a great job of managing risk so far.
“You can’t manage risk better than this,” he said. “I think it’s a win-win.”
Downtown Business Association president Cynthia Jones said she attended “The Apothecary” performance at the Armory last weekend and “the town was alive.”
The restaurants were full and downtown was busy.
Her husband, Ellis Jones, added that in the early stages of the Main street reconstruction project there was some negativity. It was difficult but now downtown is better than ever, he said.
“A rising tide lifts all boats and that’s the only thing we can do,” he said.
Councilmembers were not completely satisfied with the proposed development plan but the resolution that was passed allowed for that plan to be fine-tuned later on.
The resolution states:
“1. The proposed plan for the redevelopment of Armory Square into the Upper Mississippi Center for the Arts is hereby accepted and approved as the general model for such development and the role of the EDA in such process.
“2. The city staff is hereby authorized and directed to work with PRCDC to pursue funding from the state of Minnesota and such matters as may be appropriate.
“3. This resolution is being adopted with the specific proviso that the plan in its present form must continue to be developed and is conditioned on the approval of the EDA of completed agreement, loan approvals, state bonding, agreement with the Minnesota Office of Management and Budget as contemplated in the proposed plan.
If the above three tasks are met the EDA will take ownership of the Armory.
Chirpich had correspondence with Senate Tax Committee administrator Donovan Hurd, who said that “the session is moving extremely fast and we feel this year is our best opportunity to get this done. Chances like this do not come very often.”
The city will continue to work with the developer on specific plans.