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Another phase will be announced Monday. (Anna Erickson / Enterprise)

Planners say Armory reuse is feasible

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Planners have concluded that Armory Square renovations are feasible if it is split between a private commercial project and arts facility or community development corporation. The cost to complete construction on the Armory is about $3.9 million.

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Marty Shukert and Cory Scott, planners with RDG Planning & Design, presented recommendations Monday night at a public meeting.

The plan is divided between the annex on the north side of the building, which was constructed in 1941, and the Armory itself, constructed in 1922.

The RDG study, which is still in draft phase, proposed the Armory's main level should be converted to quality, flexible performing arts and event space. The lower level should be a visual arts center and a permanent home for Nemeth Art Center, currently housed in the old courthouse, according to the study.

The study found that the annex should have retail and a restaurant on the street level with office suites on the upper level.

As Shukert and Scott researched Park Rapids' market it found dramatic increases in retail sales between 2006 and 2011,

"We think the economy here has become more regional," Shukert said. "It's partly due to Walmart."

He also said the J&B Foods project reinforced the regional draw to Park Rapids. People in outlying areas are now coming to Park Rapids for basic goods instead of to Bemidji or Detroit Lakes. After buying basic goods they head to downtown for niche purchases, Shukert said.

The population is also increasing and the study projected it will continue to increase.

Park Rapids is "becoming a bigger arts center" as well, Shukert said.

Ownership of the proposed Armory Square project would be most feasible if it is split between privately owned and either an arts facility corporation (such as Park Rapids Lakes Area Arts Council), community development corporation or as a last resort a public agency, planners concluded. The entire building is currently in private ownership by Alan Zemek and Echopoint Design and Development, LLC.

Ideas for uses in the Armory include using it as a venue for one-day trade show events, weddings and performing arts.

The cost to complete construction on the Armory is about $3.9 million. This would include completing the basic building improvements, equipment, lighting, seating, space acquisition and contingencies, along with establishing an endowment. The Annex would need an additional $150,000 to complete construction on the upper level office space.

The $3.9 million could be financed with a $1 million USDA Community Facilities Loan, a $1 million private fundraising campaign and public financing through bonding or other means.

Shukert said he thinks the plan is feasible. It won't be easy but he thinks with the right people at the helm it will work.

The project could be implemented in phases by first completing the annex and basic rehab of the Armory space to make it suitable for events and exhibits. The final phase would include closing on financing and private funding, completing the Armory improvements, conveying the property to an arts facility corporation and repaying the owner for fixed investment.

Will this project support itself? According to RDG, the answer is yes, based on current estimates. The interim project breaks even and the final project would generate about $40,000 in positive cash flow annually.

The project also has an economic benefit for Park Rapids, Shukert said.

The estimate is about $1.25 million in annual direct spending and about $3.125 million in annual economic impact.

A final study should be approved in a few weeks.

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Anna Erickson
Anna Erickson is editor of the Wadena Pioneer Journal.
(218) 631-2561
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