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Sen. Skoe tours Armory Square

State Sen. Rod Skoe was impressed with the amount of work completed since his last visit. “Well done. This is exciting,” he said. (Shannon Geisen/Enterprise)

State Senator Rod Skoe met with members of the Park Rapids Community Development Corporation Wednesday.

The PRCDC asked for Skoe’s help in getting the Minnesota Management & Budget Office’s approval of documents and a plan that were submitted in April.

“How’s that process going?” asked Skoe.

“Sl-o-o-owly,” replied Lowell Wolff, a PRCDC director.

Skoe offered to call the MMB and “see if we can make some progress.”

In 2014, the state legislature allocated $2.5 million in bonding to renovate Armory Square into an arts and events center. This is a grant, not a loan.

The city can use the appropriated grant money, up to $2.5 million, to purchase the building. The bonding legislation requires the building be used as arts and public events center.

The MMB must approve the submitted documents and plan before awarding funds.

In April, the city of Park Rapids agreed to purchase Armory Square. Taking ownership of the historic facility is necessary for the city to receive a $2.5 million grant from the state and proceed with the project.

The city will own the building and lease it to the PRCDC, doing business as the Upper Mississippi Center for the Arts. This is a local, non-profit organization that will raise money for operations.

Wolff detailed the events that have occurred in Armory Square this year, such as Headwaters Center for Lifelong Learning programs, a flower and garden show, Northern Light Opera Company’s musical, a library presentation and Niijii Radio’s live broadcast.

He explained how the Upper Mississippi Arts Center would join The Minnesota Presenters Network to draw performers to Park Rapids. The regional network includes other venues like Historic Holmes Theatre, Five Wings Arts Council and the Region 2 Arts Council.

“We look to develop relationships with other centers like us to learn from them and develop regional programming,” Wolff said.

Additional arts events would be two- to three-day arts workshops, such as photography and painting classes; artist-in-residence programs; speciality art exhibits and an expansion of existing events, like the annual Tree Lighting Ceremony.

The Nemeth Art Center is interested in presenting winter exhibits at Armory Square. Region 2 Arts Council would like to bring its exhibit, “What’s Left,” to Park Rapids for the month of November.

“We’re constantly looking for those opportunities,” Wolff said.

Eventually, the Armory will have an executive director, but in the meantime the PRCDC has divided into five work groups: finance and development, promotions and marketing, facility, education development and finance.

The PRCDC has identified $50,000 in startup costs, which include a design study, feasibility study, materials and preparation for a capital campaign and grant writing expenses.

“Our intent, after the capital campaign, is to have this building debt-free,” explained Kathy Grell. “There’s a very generous base,” she said, of local and summer residents who would offer financial support.

“We do know for a fact that activities at the Armory drives economic activity downtown. All these businesses benefit when there are activities at the Armory,” Grell said.

“You have a built-in base with the tourist season all summer long,” agreed Skoe.

Skoe said the MMB has a large workload and covers a large region.

“As you can see, we’re ready,” said Cynthia Jones, a PRCDC and Park Rapids Downtown Business Association member. “We just need to hear from the MMB.”

“We’re not looking to add to their work load, but to take it off their table,” said city administrator John McKinney.

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