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'Armory Square' proposed

The armory building in downtown Park Rapids has significant deficiencies that need to be fixed before it can be used as a community center to foster arts and music in the community. (Anna Erickson/Enterprise)

Local developer Alan Zemek is proposing that "Armory Square" in Park Rapids be rehabilitated and made into a community center.

"I see it primarily to be representative of the cultural heritage and historical preservation and artistic expression of the community of Park Rapids," he said.

Zemek gave a proposal of a development plan to the Park Rapids City Council Tuesday night.

The 24,000-square-foot armory is located at Park Avenue South and Second Street West. It has been vacant for several years.

According to Zemek, the city of Park Rapids foreclosed on the property a few years ago after a previous attempt at redevelopment was attempted but not completed. The city sold the armory to the current owner at auction for $26,000.

The current assessed value of the property is $126,000, which consists of $126,000 for the land and a value of zero for the building itself.

The building has significant deficiencies that have limited development potential, Zemek said. These include:

n Lack of off street parking;

n Inadequate access for the disabled;

n The presence of asbestos and other hazardous materials;

n No modern safety equipment, such as automatic fire sprinklers;

n The building is energy inefficient and would need complete modernization, including ventilation and air conditioning.

A redevelopment of the armory would cost around $2.6 million, Zemek estimates. He thinks this exceeds the commercial potential of the site but thinks a coordinated effort with public and private resources could make the project viable.

The city of Park Rapids recently commissioned a market study for a community center in the city. That would likely cost upwards of $11 million.

A community center that would include visual and performance art with an art gallery and civic use could be more viable, Zemek said.

He envisions the current Senior Center as being the entrance and having a theater, gallery space and a commercial anchor, he said. He thinks working with the city to get grants to help with the rehabilitation and possibly getting Tax Increment Financing could be a way to make the project work.

The Downtown Revitalization Plan listed the armory as "strongly contributing" to the historical character of downtown Park Rapids.

Zemek envisions working on the four blocks of the Second Street corridor, from Heartland Trail on the east to the old city water tower on the west to create a downtown arts and heritage district. Many historic buildings, including the old city fire station, the armory, the Carnegie Library and the old Park Rapids School are located on that street, he said.

The armory has limited potential at this point.

"As it is now, the only thing it has going for it is the location and the historic character," Zemek said. "In terms of economic use, its highest and best use is what it is right now, an unheated warehouse."

The best chance for a successful redevelopment would be to integrate public, private and donated resources, he said.

The Park Rapids City Council took no action on the proposal. Council members seemed to agree that in order for the project to work, the city would need to be involved.

The "Armory Square" proposal is still just a concept and would need to be more detailed before moving forward with any collaboration.