Progress continues at Armory Square
By Jean Ruzicka
Phase Two of the Armory Square redevelopment project continues with improvements being made to the auditorium for weather proofing, Alan Zemek reports of the evolution of the multi-purpose performing arts and events center on Highway 71 South.
New insulation, re-roofing and installation of new HVAC equipment for heating and cooling were added to the former National Guard Auditorium.
These improvements will make it possible for Northern Light Opera Company to host six performances of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown!” in mid-July, just a few weeks from now.“This building is a Park Rapids icon,” said Pat Dove, NLOC co-founder and board member. “A vacant, dark place for 20 years is now coming alive,” she said of its “transformation.”People 35 and older likely remember it as the community’s center of activity, she said of Boy Scouts’ Pinewood Derbies, military drills, social events and innumerable other activities at the armory.She and husband Paul are hoping to assist with bringing the site back to being a cultural and commercial hub of the community.To that end, they have applied for a National Endowment of the Arts grant to create a regional center for the arts.If the grant is approved, with notification expected in July, they will work with a theater design company, “not only for performance space,” she explained, “but community space,” trade shows, for example.“But a lot of pieces have to come together,” Dove said.Last fall, NLOC staged Gershwin’s “Of Thee I Sing” in conjunction with elections, earning rave reviews from the audience.Her son-in-law, Greg Paul, will be arriving to begin work on the Charlie Brown production, with six performances scheduled, 7:30 p.m. July 12 and 13 and 18 and 19 and 3 p.m. matinees July 14 and 20.The production directed by Paul includes eight teens and an 11-year-old who will bring Charles Schulz’ characters, known for sardonic wit and unflinching honesty, to life.Seating will be for up to 250. Fabric will be hung to baffle sound and make the theatrical experience more intimate, she explained of the current environment in the auditorium.More information on “Charlie Brown,” as well as “Carousel,” a second NLOC production to be staged in July and August at the high school auditorium, can be found at www.northernlight opera.org.“I predict this will become a city treasure,” Dove said, citing the location that’s visible to motorists, while being easily accessible from Park Rapids’ notable Main Avenue.In November 2012 Hubbard County Regional Economic Development Commission published a comprehensive feasibility study that recommended strategies for implementing the next phase of the project, which is now underway, Zemek reports.Design specifications for the mechanical equipment include duct silencers and other enhancements to preserve the acoustical quality of the auditorium as identified in an engineering analysis prepared for NLOC in 2010.“This new capacity for the auditorium to serve as a venue for the performing arts is an important step forward in the realizing the potential these feasibility studies identified,” Zemek said. “This is an important milestone because now, for the first time in 20 years, we can make plans for an ongoing schedule of events, performances, concerts, banquets, conferences and trade shows on a regular basis,” he said.Business loans and financing for Armory Square were made possible, in part, by support from Industries for Park Rapids, the Small Cities Development Program, Northwest Minnesota Foundation, Headwaters Regional Finance Corporation, Midwest Minnesota Community Development Corporation, the City of Park Rapids Economic Development Corporation and Echopoint Design & Development LLC, Zemek said.