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Armory a finalist for state Brownfields ReScape Award

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 has been named a finalist for a 2012 Minnesota Brownfields ReScape Award in the Community Impact category.

The description on the Rescape website says, "For 20 years the former National Guard Armory Building in Park Rapids was unfit for public use and remained a dark conundrum. What do you do with a building that is too big to renovate and too expensive to tear down? How do you deal with the asbestos, lead paint, hazardous materials and an abandoned underground storage tank?

"In 2009, with no clear path to anywhere other than a commitment to solve this riddle, the City of Park Rapids Economic Development Authority and the Hubbard County Regional Economic Development Commission began a collaborative effort with Echopoint Design and Development LLC, a local developer, to try and find an adaptive reuse for this historic local landmark building.

"From that inception, the redevelopment strategy that emerged was first funded by an initial loan investment of $75,000 from Industries for Park Rapids, a Northwest Minnesota Foundation managed fund. From that humble beginning, the project has continued to attract investment and support in the form of grants and loans from the following agencies and partners: Midwest Minnesota Community Development Corporation, Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, Headwaters Regional Finance Corporation, Clean Energy Resource Teams and the Office of Energy Security, Minnesota Historical Society, and equity contributions by the local developer.

"After more than two years of planning, environmental cleanup, installation of new utility services, including state-of-the-art storm water abatement infrastructure, energy efficiency upgrades and accessibility improvements, Phase One of 'Armory Square' opened to the public in May 2011, featuring an expansion by Summerhill Farm, a well-regarded local retailer, into a new year-round facility on the corner of Second Street and Park Avenue.

"Phase Two, scheduled for 2012, includes plans for a full service Mexican-themed dinner house restaurant, studio spaces for offices, education, visual artists, music and dance instruction, gallery spaces, workshops, and an event pavilion for community events, conferences and performing arts.

"The vision for 'Armory Square' is to become a place where commerce and the arts thrive together in a collaborative, mixed-use private and public space. It is an amazing story of community collaboration to solve a complex and difficult redevelopment problem. It restores a unique historic landmark to the tax base and to public service. This is what Partners in Progress is all about."

Other finalists for the Community Impact Category ReScape Award include Duluth's Hyde Park and Hennepin County Medical Center's Whittier Clinic.

The winner in each category will be announced on Nov. 15.