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Arts groups gear up for Armory’s next steps

A crowd filled with arts enthusiasts attended an informational meeting for the Upper Mississippi Center for the Arts Monday in downtown Park Rapids. (Anna Erickson / Enterprise)

BY Anna Erickson

Attendees at a Monday meeting downtown were asked to put their “Arms Around the Armory.” The event was to kick off a focused collaborative arts conversation about the iconic downtown building.

The informational meeting was hosted by Park Rapids Lakes Area Arts Council and Region 2 Arts Center. Interested stakeholders attended the meeting at the Armory to learn more about the community collaborative effort to launch the Upper Mississippi Center for the Arts, described as a home for arts activity, arts education, and cultural events in the Park Rapids lakes area.

The Armory building is one of the most prominent features of the downtown Park Rapids landscape, and a true community asset, according to event literature. Establishing the Armory Building as the Upper Mississippi Center for the Arts will ensure an anchor for the arts and continued economic revitalization in downtown Park Rapids.

Paul Dove, representing PRLAAC, said he wants people to embrace the Armory.

“The vision has not been completely thought out yet. Some of it has, but the most exciting things will come from you,” he said.

Terri Widman, Region 2 Arts Council Executive Director, said the arts council is very supportive of arts centers.

“They provide so many opportunities that we help fund,” she said.

Region 2 Arts Council has provided funding in the past to Art Leap, Youth Music and Arts Festival, the Red Bridge Film Festival and other Park Rapids area events.

A feasibility study was completed in 2012 that concluded 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 between $4.1 and $4.5 million.

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

Alan Zemek, with Echopoint Design and Development, LLC, started the renovation of the Armory and is excited about what can happen.

“What it can become is open to the leadership we have here,” he said.

Studies have shown the Armory has the potential to generate about $3 million in economic impact to the city of Park Rapids.

Park Rapids is becoming a regional hub, the study noted. Completion of the Upper Mississippi Center for the Arts could reinforce that.

The auditorium has already been used for Northern Light Opera Co. performances and a home and garden show.

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 PRLAAC), community development corporation or as a last resort a public agency, planners concluded.

The estimated capital cost of between $4.1 and $4.5 million 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.

John Rasmussen, representing PRLAAC, said a fund drive should start soon for the Armory in order to show initiative before state legislators ask for the project to be included in a 2014 bonding bill.

If the Armory is able to receive between $2 and $2.25 million from state bonding, $1 million or more should be raised from a capital fund drive, he said.

“I’ve seen these projects work in other communities,” he said, and thinks Park Rapids could make it work as well.

As far as timing, Rasmussen said a fund drive chair should be appointed between now and Oct. 15 and potential large donors should be identified, along with a strategy. Focus groups will be made to identify and work on other items that need to be completed to move forward with the Upper Mississippi Center for the Arts.

“This project cannot be completed with a negative attitude,” Rasmussen said.

Enthusiasm is necessary to make this effort work and the project needs everyone “pulling on the oars in the same direction,” he added.

Conversations will continue in focus groups in the next couple months.

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