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Park Rapids seeks arts center

ST. PAUL — Park Rapids wants $4 million from the state to rehabilitate a former National Guard armory into a regional arts center.  Senators made no promises Monday when the first legislative committee considered the request. The proposal was held over for possible further discussion when, and if, lawmakers take up a public works funding bill this year.

“It’s kind of a blighted area of our downtown,” Executive Director David Collins of the Hubbard County Regional Economic Development Commission told a Senate economic development committee.

The Upper Mississippi River Center for the Arts would be home to art such as paintings as well as plays and music.

Alan Zemek, who splits his time between Park Rapids and Southern California, said the center would help Park Rapids’ economy.  “We can’t market just on clean water and trails,” Zemek said.

The state’s $4 million would be part of the total funding package, which includes $1 million in private donations. More than $2 million already has been spent on the armory, which was abandoned 20 years ago.

State money would be used to rehabilitate the building. Other funds would be used to buy it from the private owner.  City leaders have worked five years on the arts center.

“It is a great building,” said Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook, sponsor of the Senate version of the bill. Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, sponsors the House bill.  The armory is on U.S. 71 near Minnesota 34, “a very high visibility location,” Skoe said.

“Throughout its history, it was always the place where residents gathered,” Zemek said.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.