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Crookston's Wayne Hotel, Bena's giant muskie land on 'endangered' list

Crookston's landmark Wayne Hotel is back on a list of Minnesota's "10 Most Endangered Historic Places." Photo courtesy of JLG Architects.

The old Palace Hotel in downtown Crookston is back on a list of Minnesota's "10 Most Endangered Historic Places."

The four-story structure, also known as the Wayne Hotel, was built in the 1890s. It made the top-10 endangered list in 2006 after Polk County acquired it through tax forfeiture. It fell off the list, compiled annually by the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota, when a plan to convert it to rental housing took shape.

Those rehabilitation plans have stalled, in part because of the recent economic downturn, and the Polk County Board voted in January to demolish the building if funding isn't found by October.

The alliance announced its 2009 list Thursday, returning the Palace Hotel to endangered status.

Aaron Parrish, Crookston city administrator, said Thursday that city officials are "cautiously optimistic" that financing will be arranged in time to save the Palace.

He said that local officials continue to work with MetroPlains Development, which has secured a long-term, low-interest loan through USDA Rural Development and has applications pending for low-income housing tax credits through the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency.

"If they're successful with those, we hope to have a project moving forward," Parrish said. "If not, we'll have to evaluate whether the county wants to try something else or should pursue demolition."

The county has indicated a willingness to contribute about $300,000 toward a rehab project, the amount it likely would have to spend for demolition, and the city "has agreed to provide some tax increment financing," he said.

"It's a good project," he said. "We've done a housing study that shows a demand for the type of rental housing they're proposing. And it's a landmark building in our community. The façade is architecturally significant. The problems are on the inside."

Big fish rotting?

Since it was founded in 1981, the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota has identified more than 130 historic places in Minnesota that faced "imminent danger through demolition, neglect, severe alteration or inappropriate public policy." About two-thirds have been saved by public awareness brought about by the listings, according to the nonprofit alliance.

The only other listing in northwestern Minnesota is the 65-foot replica of a muskie that was built in 1958 as a drive-in hamburger stand in Bena, about 35 miles east of Bemidji.

"Over the years, the big fish has been seen on television and, most notably, in the Chevy Chase movie, 'National Lampoon's Vacation,' " reported. According to the alliance, the structure is used as a storage shed next to the Big Fish Supper Club but is in disrepair and in danger of collapsing.

In 2005, the alliance's list of endangered structures included a Moderne-style, two-story concrete building in Roseau that had been used as a city hall, jail and fire station. Despite the listing, the building was torn down and replaced by a new city center complex.