Thompson, Christenson, Mathisrud, Fenger, Leckner, McKinney and Utke (not pictured) let loose a festive explosion of confetti at the end of Monday's Armory "liftoff." (Robin Fish/Enterprise)
Thompson, Christenson, Mathisrud, Fenger, Leckner, McKinney and Utke (not pictured) let loose a festive explosion of confetti at the end of Monday's Armory "liftoff." (Robin Fish/Enterprise)

“It's been a long time coming,” Bruhn said, quoting a well-known song.

Speakers included City Administrator Ryan Mathisrud and Mayor Ryan Leckner, who thanked the individuals and organizations whose efforts helped make the Armory project a success.

Former City Administrator John McKinney recalled his predecessor, Bill Smith, telling him in 2012 that the Armory project – then styled the Upper Mississippi Arts Center – was the dream of a private organization and would never involve the city. McKinney, in turn, told Mathisrud when he took over the job that the Armory project would probably wrap up in a couple of months.

In reality, the Armory purchase – funded by a state appropriation whose bill was introduced in 2013 – proved to be “a few weeks from completion” for a couple years. It showed, McKinney quipped, that you can’t expect a city administrator to tell the truth even when he means it.

State Sen. Paul Utke, who was on the Park Rapids City Council during early stages of the Armory project, recalled being in the majority on several 3-2 votes that moved the project forward and added that he always believed in the people involved.

“It took extraordinary vision to see what a building could become, and then to make that vision become reality,” said Char Christenson, a Hubbard County commissioner. “The Park Rapids community has a long history of vibrant art and culture, and this facility will help to encourage and expand the opportunities in our community.”

“A lot of water has passed under the Red Bridge since this project began,” said Cynthia Jones with the Park Rapids Downtown Business Association, noting that in spite of a range of opinions about the Armory, “there is overwhelming enthusiasm and support for Park Rapids and its downtown.”

Jones predicted that the Armory will be “a driver for year-round economic activity in Park Rapids” and “a centerpiece for our town.”

“Today, many new happenings are beginning,” she said. “Today, more than ever before, we need this as a place to gather, to have fun, to hold events, and to appreciate the arts and artists in our community.”

Denny Ulmer, president of the Armory Arts and Event Center board, said that as a musician, he looks forward to performances in the facility’s great acoustics.

Because of restrictions on social gatherings designed to control the spread of the coronavirus, the facility is not planning many events for the remainder of 2020, according to Mary Thompson, executive director of the Heartland Lakes Development Commission, which handles the Armory’s event schedule.

“We are looking at opening a first-class, wonderful facility that will be here for the community year ’round, to provide opportunities to gather, … to bring arts into the community, and have large events that we have been lacking in the community for a long time,” said Thompson. “We are so pleased that the community has been able to get together and stand behind this really historic building.”

“This place is going to be a beacon for our community,” said Bruhn – “arts, events, culture, commerce, celebration. It’s going to be here, and it’s going to be a good, good thing.”

Rev. Justin Fenger closed the ceremony with a devotion connecting the Armory with Memorial Day.

“I stand here, as a member of the community, inspired by you and by what you have accomplished in, yes, maybe a little bit longer time than we may have liked,” he said. “This building has always been an inspiration to the Park Rapids community, for those that continue to dream dreams and live lives.”

Fenger added that the Armory started as a place where members of the armed forces trained and served. “This building still serves the same function today,” he said. “It will be a beacon for training, a movement for service out in the community and out in the nations, that radiates, that breeds people that continue to inspire a nation.”

Fenger concluded by singing the verse of “America the Beautiful” that says, “Oh, beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife, who more than self their country loved, and mercy more than life. America, may God thy gold refine till all success be nobleness and every gain divined.”