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Historical assessment shows Armory not likely to be placed on National Registry

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)

An assessment was recently completed on the historical and architectural significance of the Park Rapids National Guard Armory.

The Armory, which is the center of a redevelopment project spearheaded by developer Alan Zemek, will likely not be included on the National Registry after this evaluation. This doesn't change any plans, however.

"It does rule out Federal Historic Tax Credits as a source of financing," Zemek said.

The report concludes that there is nothing that jumps out in the Armory's history to make an easy case for inclusion in the National Register.

"That being said, the historical significance of the building in the local context is still an important characteristic of the building we intend to preserve," Zemek said. "It does, in my mind anyway, reinforce the importance of forward looking action by local communities to keep their own legacy, and interpret and preserve their own history."

Zemek has plans to open Armory Square by June 2011 if all the pieces come together. A second public hearing will be held at noon Tuesday, March 8, to modify Tax Increment Finance District 10 for the redevelopment project.

A Tax Increment Finance district was established last July after a first public hearing. Some questions came up later on and a second hearing is needed as a formality.

The project received overwhelming support at the first TIF hearing.

Historical consulting firm Hess, Roise and Company completed the Armory evaluation. It was prepared by Hess Roise historian Stephanie Atwood with the assistance of staff research Penny Petersen.

According to the report, the National Register consists of properties "significant in American history, architecture, archeology, engineering, and culture." Districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects with sufficient physical integrity can qualify if they meet at least one of four criteria.

"Significance is evaluated by considering the history of the property, its relation to other properties of its type, and its role in larger historical contexts," according to the report. "To assess the significance of the Park Rapids Armory, historians conducted research on the property, the community, and the Minnesota National Guard at repositories in Park Rapids and the Twin Cities.

"Examination of historic newspapers, local chronologies, and other sources produced little information on the construction of the armory. Its actual opening date is unknown, and it received little or no attention in discussions of the city's architecture. This is surprising, for the construction of such a prominent building for an important state program in a community of this size typically received a great deal of attention from contemporary newspapers and later historians."

Based on the analysis the little historical information diminished the potential for the Park Rapids Armory to meet the National Register criteria.

The report includes an evaluation for developing a downtown historic district that could include the Armory, former city hall and the Carnegie Library. That would take further research, however, the report states.

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