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Inside the Armory

Alan Zemek1 / 3
The old stage inside the Park Rapids Armory building is one of several features that has brought back memories for many in the area. Local developer Alan Zemek has spent two years working on the historic building, getting it ready for possible redevelopment. (Anna Erickson / Enterprise)2 / 3
One of the classrooms that was used at the Armory has damage to the floor due to freezing and thawing. A consultant will determine the historic significance of the building this fall. (Anna Erickson / Enterprise)3 / 3

It's been two years since local developer Alan Zemek began research and planning on possible redevelopment of the historic Armory in downtown Park Rapids.

Much of the two years has been spent filing paperwork with the state and other agencies for cleaning up the property, a step necessary before any construction could begin. Zemek received grants to help fund the cleanup.

"We've finally got the site cleared of all hazardous material and it's essentially at the point where we could start work," Zemek said.

He recently received documentation for the environmental abatement that says all asbestos has been removed and disposed of and the old underground fuel oil storage tank has been removed. Crews have been working to finish additional demolition clean up before winter.

"Where we're at now is we have a shell to start with," Zemek said. "We've overcome the major hurdles."

The city approved implementing a Tax Increment Financing District for the Armory in July, with overwhelming support from the community. If the TIF District is approved by the state, Zemek could receive a tax break on development of the Armory.

A walk through the building shows solid concrete and steel construction. At this point, much of the clean up is removing moldy flooring and tiles due to leaks and flooding in the building, Zemek said.

"We're just working to get the building secure for winter," he said. "At this point, there's no promises on rehabilitation."

The original building was constructed in 1922, Zemek said. The addition was built in 1941.

"There's a lot of history here," he said.

Zemek said he has spoken with many people around town who have stories and memories of the Armory.

"I've heard, 'I served in the guard here, or I went to the craft show, or played basketball in the gym,'" he said.

There is a lot of community interest in the Armory and Zemek is hopeful that it's beyond the point of being torn down.

"There are so many memories," he said. "We're past the point of no return."

He also thinks Park Rapids has done an excellent job of branding itself as a destination rather than a drive-through town. A redeveloped historic building could be another draw, he said.

Zemek has received a Minnesota Historical and Cultural Heritage Grant in the amount of $5,000 from the Minnesota Historical Society to benefit the Armory project.

"This grant will be invaluable in guiding the adaptive redevelopment plan and re-use of this important landmark in downtown Park Rapids. There are very strong local community connections to this site, and I want to make sure we get it right," Zemek said.

As an award recipient, Midwest Minnesota Community Development Corporation will utilize the state grant to study the potential for inclusion of the former Armory building on the National Register of Historic Places.

A consultant will document the physical characteristics of the building, gather relevant materials on the history of the site and conduct additional research as necessary to determine the historic significance of the building. The Armory could be the center of an overall downtown revitalization initiative.

Minnesota Historical and Cultural Heritage grants are made possible by the Minnesota Legislature from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund created with the passage of the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment to the Minnesota Constitution in November 2008. The grants are awarded to support projects of enduring value for the cause of history and historic preservation across the state.

MMCDC has hired Charlene Roise of Hess, Roise and Company to conduct the study, which will begin shortly.

MMCDC is a private nonprofit corporation engaged in community, housing and business development in underserved areas of Minnesota. Hubbard County is part of its original seven-county Special Impact Area. For more information, go to

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