It's mostly a parking lot, with Stegman mural mostly a separate project; council also agrees to waive school district building permit fees for swimming pool project.

    It's nothing fancy, but with downtown merchants clamoring for more parking options for their customers, a preliminary plan to develop the corner of Second Street and North Main put together by Public Works Director Pat Kelly – a corner that for generations was home to the Wayne/Palace Hotel building until it was demolished a couple years ago – was popular with Crookston City Council members Monday evening, mostly because it features a paved parking lot.

    At the council's Ways & Means Committee meeting that followed their regular meeting, Kelly said he's getting an estimate on what it would cost to pave the lot, and with a storm sewer running through the lot a catch basin will be installed as well to keep drainage from crossing the adjacent sidewalks. Along the north JJ's Bodyshop wall, exposed once the historic building was torn down, Kelly is opting for a five-foot wide walking path so people who park there have a buffer that keeps their vehicles away from the wall, and also gives them a safer place to walk once they exit their vehicles. Asked if shrubs or some other type of greenery might look more attractive there, Kelly said he doesn't think any plants or trees right next to the tall wall would get enough sunlight to thrive. There's an opening toward the rear of the JJ's Bodyshop building, though, Kelly added, and a couple trees would do better there.

    In what he described as a pleasant surprise, Kelly said the Minnesota Department of Transportation will allow vehicles to exit the lot onto North Main. In order to provide the best entrance to the lot on Second Street, the council granted Kelly's request to remove a planter.

    Council members on the committee suggested that a bench or two and maybe some greenery be added to northwest corner of the lot, where a pillar from the former hotel remains. A sitting area there would give people a nice view of what will likely be a mural that will be mounted on the north wall of JJ's Bodyshop.

    Ah, yes...the mural. Crookston High School art teacher Gary Stegman has created a tiled mural that includes an inspirational message over the backdrop image of the Palace Hotel lobby from the early 20th century. Stegman and JJ's Bodyshop owner Jodi Dragseth have discussed Stegman's mural and appear for the most part to be on the same page, City Administrator Tony Chladek said. Stegman is pursuing a grant to fund the bulk of the mural project.

    The wall itself needs some work before any mural can be mounted. The exact scope of that work remains to be seen, Chladek said, but it's possible that the city will help Dragseth out with the cost. If the wall ends up being tuck-pointed and refurbished, Kelly suggested painting it a neutral color so Stegman's artwork is easy to see and really "jumps out." Chladek said some type of wall cover or framework has been discussed as well, with the tiled art going over whatever that framework might end up being.

    Council members said the plans are on the right track. "I think we're 98 percent there," Ward 3 Council Member Keith Mykleseth said.

    Ward 1 Council Member Tom Jorgens said that citizens he's spoken to don't want the corner to be a parking lot and nothing else. "They don't want it to just look generic, they want it to look nice," he said.

    The council has money set aside in a special projects fund that will help cover the costs related to developing the corner lot. There's also an adjacent 25 foot wide by 100 foot long strip on the parcel that the city will soon be looking to acquire so the project in its entirety is doable.

Pool project
    The committee granted the Crookston School District's request to waive building permit fees for an improvement project scheduled to begin at the district-owned facility in early April. Factoring in an estimated cost of $180,000, Building Inspector Matt Johnson said the building permit would have totaled a little more than $1,000.

    When Ward 6 Council Member Tom Vedbraaten suggested that the district possibly be asked to pay half the building permit cost, other council members on the committee agreed that the pool is a community asset and that waiving the fee was probably the best strategy, considering that the city and school district each year contribute approximately $67,000 each to cover the pool's operating deficit.
    "It's certainly in our history to have done this for other government entities and non-profits," Community Development Director Mike MacDonald said.

    "They've been a good partner with us," Mayor Dave Genereux added, referring to the school district.