Should city own Armory?
By Anna Erickson
The Park Rapids City Council is coming down to the wire on whether to take over ownership of the Park Rapids Armory.
The council, acting as the Park Rapids Economic Development Authority, heard a request from the Park Rapids Lakes Area Arts Council (PRLAAC) to take over ownership of parts of the Armory in order to be eligible to receive bond funding.
According to summarizing information provided by PRLAAC, “an exciting opportunity now exists for this community. Longtime residents have many fond memories of time spent at the Armory when it was the center for community gatherings. Progress is underway for it to again become a center for community activities and a regional art center.
“In 2008, the City of Park Rapids adopted a comprehensive plan for the renewal and revitalization of downtown Park Rapids that included adaptive reuse of the abandoned Armory. Now, Park Rapids has the opportunity to request state bond funds to purchase the Armory auditorium and put it back into the public sector at no capital cost to the city.
“The Armory’s central location will serve as the anchor development in the economic revitalization of the Park Rapids community. The construction phase will create an immediate economic impact; and, the long-term impact will create a community with a high quality of life.”
No action was taken on the resolution at Tuesday’s council meeting. However, the council said it was generally in favor with moving ahead with the project but needed more details.
McKinney was directed to work with PRLAAC representatives to create a detailed plan and bring it back to the council for a decision at 6 p.m. Tuesday, March 18.
Tim Flathers, director of the Headwaters Regional Development Commission, said he was not advocating for the Armory but rather working on the behalf of the Park Rapids community to help put together information on the project.
A solid tenant, a lease agreement and plan for ongoing maintenance is needed to create a high level of confidence by the city before it approves taking over ownership, Flathers said.
Park Rapids councilmember Paul Utke said the lack of a viable plan has been why the city is hesitant to take over ownership.
“There has been nothing discussed with financing,” agreed councilmember Erika Randall.
Paul Dove, representing PRLAAC, said that PRLAAC is asking for approval of a resolution that has several conditions that need to be met, including an operational plan.
The conditions are:
1. A purchase agreement facilitated on behalf of the City of Park Rapids Economic Development Authority (EDA) by the Headwaters Regional Development Commission with Armory Square Management;
2. A bonding of at least $2,000,000 passed by the Minnesota Legislature and signed into law;
3. An agreement secured with the Minnesota Office of Management and Budget regarding the disbursement of bonding funds for which the City of Park Rapids EDA will have three years from legislative bonding approval to complete terms;
4. An acceptable operation and management plan agreed to by PRLAAC and the EDA;
5. No unsecured capital debt associated with the project; the City of Park Rapids desires and intends to own portions of the former Park Rapids Armory for development as a regional arts center.
Several community members attended Tuesday’s meeting in support of the project.
Cynthia Jones, president of the Downtown Business Association, said from a business perspective, having a place to have meetings downtown is needed.
“Having this will help us and be used for a multitude of purposes,” she said.
Park Rapids Chamber director Nicole Lalum also supported the Armory project from an economic standpoint.
She sees the need for having a place to have conferences. Flexibility will be important in the design, she said.
Randall was concerned that up until now only arts and theater activities have been discussed as possible uses for the Armory. She thought it needed to be expanded to include other uses.
Dove reassured her that the plans are for a multi-use facility that would be used for conferences, wedding receptions, trade shows and other events. A catering kitchen is part of the plans as well, he said.
As city staff and PRLAAC work on getting details put together for financial information, the clock is ticking at the state level.
Legislators are talking about including the project in the bonding bill. Hearings will need to take place before that happens and the property will need to be publicly owned.
The council will revisit the request at a special meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday, March 18.