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Mayor urges speedier progress in Armory renovation

Proposed Armory Square redevelopment includes an inviting patio area to tie in with the Main Avenue revitalization project slated for completion this summer. Armory redevelopment will likely be a phased project. (Architect's drawing)

Armory Square redevelopment hinges on a developer's agreement between the city of Park Rapids and Armory Square Management Corp.

Alan Zemek, who is heading up the potential redevelopment, wants the agreement to be finalized soon so he can get to work.

Zemek has plans to open Armory Square by June 2011 if all the pieces come together.

He has received several grants to assist in the cleanup of the property.

Financing of $300,000 was secured through the support of Congressman Jim Oberstar and Arlen Kangas, president of Midwest Minnesota Community Development Corporation.

"It's a Catch 22," he said of the property. "It's not commercially viable so we'll have to find other ways to make it work. I would like to figure out where to go from here."

He has already been planning and researching the property for more than two years. Due to severe environmental contamination, cleanup included removing petroleum, asbestos and lead paint.

Zemek has described his plan to redevelop the armory as the most difficult project he has pursued.

"Armory Square" will be redeveloped to become an integrated mixed use commercial and civic facility.

He is proposing "pay-as-you-go" Tax Increment Financing due to the complex nature of the project. Then, the Park Rapids City Council could review it yearly.

"I don't understand why we don't have progress," said Mayor Nancy Carroll. City administrator "Bill (Smith) can act as an intermediary. Whatever it takes, I'm in favor of doing."

Smith said he wanted more clarification from the council on its support of the phasing of the project. That has never been established in writing, he said, and the attorneys working on the wording of the developer's agreement need that.

The council said it was in support of a phased approach. The next council meeting is Jan. 11 and the council expressed urgency to Smith and Zemek on getting something ready for approval by then.

The Park Rapids Armory, originally constructed in 1928, served the National Guard as an armory, training, and maintenance facility for more than sixty years. An addition was added in 1941 as a Works Projects Administration project to house vehicles for a mechanized infantry unit.

While it was in operation the armory also served the community as overflow classrooms for the burgeoning middle school, hosted athletic competitions and a wide variety of community events. The armory was closed in 1992 as part of a statewide consolidation of National Guard units, and has remained vacant for the last 18 years.

Zemek says the redevelopment project will create 12-22 full time and seasonal jobs and contribute to the fulfillment of the 2008 Park Rapids' downtown revitalization plan.

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