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Klobuchar visits Park Rapids

Sen. Amy Kobuchar and Dave Collins, with the Hubbard County Regional Economic Development Commission, discuss Armory improvements. (Anna Erickson / Enterprise)

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar stopped in Park Rapids Thursday afternoon to see highlights of the Armory Square development project.

Local officials, the Downtown Business Association, Hubbard County Regional Economic Development Commission and project developers gathered at the Armory to meet the senator and fill her in on the project.

Klobuchar toured Summerfield on Second and Vallartas Mexican Grill that have established a commercial presence at the building. The senator said she would put in a good word about the project with those who could decide if it will receive a Community Facilities Loan from the USDA and a National Endowment for the Arts grant.

The next step in the project is to work on what developers are calling the Upper Mississippi Center for the Arts.

A feasibility study was completed in 2012 that concluded Armory Square renovations are feasible if it is split between a private commercial project and arts facility or community development corporation. The cost to complete construction on the Armory is about $3.9 million.

The RDG study proposed the Armory's main level should be converted to quality, flexible performing arts and event space. The lower level should be a visual arts center and a permanent home for Nemeth Art Center, which is currently housed in the old courthouse, according to the study.

Alan Zemek, with Echopoint Design and Development, LLC, visited with Klobuchar and others via Skype.

"This has the potential to generate about $3.1 million in economic impact to the city of Park Rapids," he said.

The Armory has the potential to be the center of activity in Park Rapids, Zemek said.

Park Rapids is becoming a regional hub, the study noted. Completion of the Upper Mississippi Center for the Arts would reinforce that, Zemek said.

The auditorium has already been used for a Northern Light Opera Co. performance. The next phase will be to take advantage of incremental uses such as trade shows, banquets and conferences.

Ownership of the proposed Armory Square project would be most feasible if it is split between privately owned and either an arts facility corporation (such as Park Rapids Lakes Area Arts Council), community development corporation or as a last resort a public agency, planners concluded.

The cost to complete construction on the Armory is about $3.9 million. This would include completing the basic building improvements, equipment, lighting, seating, space acquisition and contingencies, along with establishing an endowment. The Annex would need an additional $150,000 to complete construction on the upper level office space.

The $3.9 million could be financed with a $1 million USDA Community Facilities Loan, a $1 million private fundraising campaign and public financing through bonding or other means. An application has also been submitted for the NEA grant for Northern Light Opera Co. and Park Rapids Lakes Area Arts Council (PRLAAC).

John Rasmussen, representing PRLAAC, said Park Rapids is unique and is a mecca for retirees. He said completing this project would draw even more people to Park Rapids for retirement.

Klobuchar said she has noticed that Park Rapids has become a regional hub as well and is becoming more of a draw for retirees.

Officials are also pushing for the project to be included on a 2014 state bonding bill.

The project could be implemented in phases by first completing the annex and basic rehab of the Armory space to make it suitable for events and exhibits. The final phase would include closing on financing and private funding, completing the Armory improvements, conveying the property to an arts facility corporation and repaying the owner for fixed investment.

Klobuchar also met with community and business leaders in Fargo, Moorhead and Walker Thursday to discuss veterans issues, metal thefts and economic development.

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