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Contamination investigation is critical step for Armory

Local developer Alan Zemek is hoping to redevelop Amory Square in downtown Park Rapids to include retail and food venues. State cleanup funds will be used to investigate contamination in the building. (Enterprise photo)

Armory Square will receive more than $20,000 in state cleanup funds to investigate contamination as a step in working toward redevelopment of the property.

"The DEED funds we were awarded will allow us to prepare a comprehensive analysis of all the environmental hazardous present at the armory, and the engineering report that will come out of this effort will tell us in detail the scope of the problems and how to make effective remediation of the hazardous material," said Alan Zemek, with Echopoint Design & Development, LLC.

"This process is absolutely essential, because without this analysis the project cannot move forward," he said. "Overcoming this challenge is just one of many that remain ahead, but this will be a major step forward, even if it looks like not much is happening, or happening very fast. It just has to be done."

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development announced that it awarded more than $1.6 million to investigate or clean up 14 contaminated sites in the state, including the Armory Square site.

The Armory Square project was listed on the agenda for Tuesday's Park Rapids City Council meeting. The Enterprise went to press before the meeting.

Zemek has previously identified to the council five must-do tasks before coming to a decision of whether or not there is a viable business model. These tasks include: A zoning amendment; handicapped accessibility; remediating or abating environmental hazards; code updates for fire, health and safety; and modernizing mechanical/climate control systems.

The grant is for $22,275. It will be used to investigate the 0.43-acre site that is potentially contaminated with petroleum, said a press release issued by DEED.

At a previous meeting, Zemek estimated redevelopment of the armory, located on Highway 71 in downtown Park Rapids, would cost around $2.6 million. He said he thinks a coordinated effort with public and private resources could make the project viable.

The site was once a church, opera house, school and armory with an associated garage. The proposal calls for redevelopment to include retail and food venues and for civic uses. The project will result in 17 new jobs and raise the tax base by $25,400, according to information submitted in the application.

DEED has awarded the grants under its Contamination Cleanup Grant Program for projects in Minneapolis (three), St. Paul (three), Hermantown, Grand Rapids, Mayer, Duluth, Carver County, St. Cloud and Virginia, in addition to the Park Rapids site.

"These grants will put formerly contaminated sites back into productive use and help create jobs," DEED Commissioner Dan McElroy said in a statement.

DEED cleanup grants, which are awarded twice a year, account for about 75 percent of the statewide public funding used for reclaiming polluted sites and brownfields. The remaining 25 percent comes from cities, counties and other local units of government, or private landowners and developers.

DEED officials expect this round of grants to attract more than $53 million in private redevelopment investment across the state, resulting in 255 market-rate housing units, 165 affordable units, 184 new jobs and 123 retained jobs. Local property tax revenues will increase by about $1 million as a result of reclaiming 252 acres of formerly polluted land.

Anna Erickson
Anna Erickson is editor of the Wadena Pioneer Journal.
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