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Armory Square developer seeks tax increment district

An old furnace at the Armory will need to be removed before redevelopment can take place.

Alan Zemek is asking to consider designating a redevelopment Tax Increment Financing District for the Armory.

Zemek, a developer, has been acquiring grants over the last year to research the building and determine whether it is feasible to redevelop.

"There's still a substantial challenge there," he said. "The heating system is completely gone, you'd go broke if you tried to put that boiler back into service, the building needs a lot of upgrades for health and public safety and fire safety."

Despite those hurdles, Zemek is continuing to move forward step by step. The ultimate goal is to have the building hold retail and food venues and be used for civic activities.

A Department of Employment and Economic Development grant provided funds to investigate contamination. He plans to apply for a solar power energy efficiency grant.

Crews have already completed the investigation and found asbestos insulation around the old heating system pipes, mercury dust from coal, lead paint, lead dust from the old shooting range, possible petroleum contamination in the ground water and benzene gas in the soil.

The building also experienced substantial water damage when the roof failed many years ago and wasn't fixed, Zemek said. The building hasn't been heated in many years so there is freeze-thaw damage, he added.

"At least now we have a complete inventory of all the material that's in there, what it is and where it is," Zemek said. "Now we can hire a licensed abatement contractor to go in there and remove it. That alone relieves a huge black cloud off that property because as long as that liability is a question nobody will touch it."

The Park Rapids City Council approved having city administrator Bill Smith look into finding financial firms that could work on the development of a TIF district. A TIF district would provide a tax incentive for the Armory if it the site was developed.

Zemek has said previously that he thinks a coordinated effort with public and private resources could make the project viable. There are still several hurdles to jump over, though, before the building is at a place where it can be redeveloped.

"Right now, you can't take it to a bank to get a loan, you can't take it to a contractor and have them go in and work because you have to be licensed to handle that stuff," Zemek said.

It will be a long process, he said.

"At least we know how to get rid of the hazardous material," Zemek said. "That's a step forward and we need to go one step at a time."

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