The Park Rapids Downtown Business Association (DBA) heard a proposal Feb. 6 to place a large statue of a loon at the northwest corner of U.S. Hwy. 71 and State Hwy. 34 in Park Rapids.
City Planner Andrew Mack shared information about the proposal when DBA board member Cynthia Jones handed around a photo of the artwork.
"It's a 24-foot-high, metal sculpture of a loon," he said. "It's made out of stainless steel and copper."
Minutes of the DBA meeting said the loon is "reportedly valued at $100,000" and once installed, "the sculpture is sure to become an icon" that the DBA can use to draw people downtown.
The art installation is expected to take place upon completion of a commercial development the city is discussing with property owner Arch Simonson with Bemidji Management Co. of Grand Forks.
Simonson is the developer who, last year, asked the city to replat a group of properties along the north side of Hwy. 34, between Main Ave. and Hwy. 71.
The artwork was commissioned by one of Simonson's associates and made by a Dutch artist, Mack said. Already completed, it was originally meant for a private, residential property on Pelican Lake, but it ran into a snag regarding zoning approval, possibly due to shoreland regulations.
"Maybe they treated it as a structure," said Mack. "I'm not sure. But Park Rapids has an Arts and Culture Plan, so I would not treat it as a structure. It's being treated as a work of art on private property, on the redevelopment site for Simonson's gas station."
Mack said that if the proposal moves forward, the loon sculpture will be placed on private property and privately maintained, but available for public viewing.
Mack shared a preliminary draft of the site plan for Simonson's development. It shows a gas station, convenience store and car wash surrounded by parking, small storefronts and, on the corner where the two highways meet, a landscaped area surrounding the loon sculpture.
"The site plan shows some really amazing amenities," said Mack. "In my estimation, this plan and redevelopment of the site will have the effect of extending the downtown to the intersection of 71 and 34. It's going to be anchored by this sculpture and high-quality landscaping on the project. His plan also shows some stamped and colored concrete sidewalk areas around the sculpture and along 34 and 71."
He added that there will be good pedestrian connections between the sculpture area and sidewalks.
Initially, Mack said, Simonson's plan was for the sculpture to go on the corner. Nevertheless, he pitched two alternate placements to local business leaders. One, in the middle of the street in front of the Park Theatre, was ruled out because it would have taken up 10 to 12 parking spaces. The other, forming a roundabout in the intersection of Main Ave. and 2nd St., would have interfered with summer festivals and other activities.
Safety considerations also had to be taken into account, said Mack. "You'd have to have enough room around it for people wanting to stand in front and take pictures. So, there's a range of how far back you've got to stand with a camera to get a 24-foot sculpture in."
The site plan for the Simonson development already had that safety zone taken into account, he said.
Mack said he has previously worked with Simonson during his previous career in Bemidji. "He does good projects. I've seen his stations over in the Grand Forks area. He does really nice projects and buildings."
Enterprise staff reached out to Simonson on Wednesday and Thursday, but were unable to obtain a comment from the developer.
Jones, co-owner of RiverBend Home Expressions on Main Ave., said the association loves the proposed art installation. "We're very supportive of the loon," she said. "The whole development that Arch Simonson is doing will really be, we feel, a boon to the economy here."
Molly Luther, owner of the Good Life Cafe and co-chair of the DBA, said, "I think the loon sculpture will be a big attraction to the downtown area. It's a beautiful sculpture. It will definitely attract attention and persuade visitors to stop and take a picture and admire it."
Only a block from the downtown district, she said, "it will be a nice way to get their attention, get them to pull over, and hopefully come explore downtown."
Both Jones and Mack stressed that the city is not spending public funds for the sculpture or putting it on public land.
"There's no way in God's earth that we could have bought this sculpture," said Jones. "This is a private sculpture on a private piece of property."
"I think our community is very fortunate that Arch Simonson thought of bringing that here," said Luther. "It's a great asset for us."
"It will be an icon for Park Rapids," Jones said. "There's no doubt. And it also fits in with the branding that we've just had done - Heartland Lakes."