Numbers will be fine-tuned over next two weeks; city will again look into possibility of buying property or, at least, inking a longer lease.

    Concluding that they want the Downtown Square to be a true destination place that everyone can be proud to showcase, the Crookston City Council, at a Ways & Means Committee meeting Monday night, endorsed the most elaborate of three options for the first structure presented to them by council member Wayne Melbye and Robert Gustafson, who's led design efforts at the fledgling square through his involvement with Crookston InMotion.

    The council is still not officially committed to anything. Monday's committee action gives Gustafson the go-ahead to spend the next couple of weeks, before the committee revisits the topic, to meet with engineers, lumber and other materials providers to get a better idea of what the first structure will actually cost. If the committee, made up of the entire council along with Mayor Dave Genereux, likes what it sees and hears in two weeks, they would recommend council approval of the structure and it would go out to bids.

  But that's only if it ends up costing in excess of $100,000, which, according to city policy, automatically requires a project go through the open bidding process. Gustafson's rough cost estimate Monday was $120,000, which includes a $20,000 contingency fund. But he stressed that he purposely "overkilled" on just about every aspect of the structure's design, including materials and engineering requirements, in the hope that when he consults with materials providers and engineers, the cost will actually come down.

    Going through the bidding process would slow the process down, Melbye said, adding that the Chamber of Commerce has scheduled its first "block party" of the season on May 23 at the Downtown Square, and that the Crookston Farmers' Market will start its 2013 season in mid to late June. Some council members aren't convinced that even under the best-case timeline the building can be completed by June, but don't think it's the end of the world if it's finished and operational later in the summer.
    The first option includes a prefabricated, metal structure from Midwest Playscapes, which has sold the city lots of playground equipment over the years. But the $75,000 cost, Melbye said, doesn't include any concrete work or assembly. The second option is the cheapest, around $30,000, and features a shelter similar to the Lions Club shelter in Highland Park.

    But council members agreed with Chamber President/CEO Shannon Stassen, who said the third option’s structure, which has a country, rural, but not quite barn-like feel to it, needs to be something special.

    Council member Keith Mykleseth, a fan of the prefab structure early on in Monday's discussion, said he didn't especially prefer the rural look of the structure Gustafson designed. But his view was outnumbered by Stassen and council members involved in the design who said they specifically wanted the building to have a country look and feel to it. Council members also said that, by going with the third option, the money spent would stay local.

    Melbye said the structure will be built on a concrete slab and will feature garage doors on each end big enough to allow vehicles to drive in and out. It can be enclosed during less than favorable weather, and can be locked up so items can be stored inside. If need be at some point in the future, Gustafson said the building could be relocated.

    Stassen and others stressed the multi-purpose capabilities of the building, which would be used by the farmers' market as well as several other groups and organizations. Council member Dana Johnson said it could be the focal point for various festivals, weddings, performances and other events. The Chamber is planning a weekly block party there all summer long.

    "I think this is something that will be very contagious in attracting people who are going to use it for a variety of things," Gustafson said.

    Melbye thinks that contagiousness will spread to community groups who donate smaller amenities to the square that further enhance the initial structure. They might even donate some labor, he said.

    "If no one donates a dime or a minute of their time, in the worst-case scenario we get a structure for this price, on concrete, assembled and installed, and turn-key," Melbye said. "But I think we'll get some help. If you green-light this, then we'll go out and see what we can do. ...Let's get this started and see where it takes us."

Concerned about lack of ownership
    The next couple of weeks will also allow City Administrator Tony Chladek to touch base again with the owners of the square property, who own the land and remaining portions of Crookston Central High School, some of which has been converted to apartments.

    When city officials first envisioned the square concept, the owner expressed a reluctance to sell the land to the city but was open to a lease. The city subsequently signed a 10-year lease, which currently has eight years left, and also has the right to match any offers made by other parties to buy the land. Language in the lease agreement paves the way for a 10-year extension once the first 10 years expires.

    Council members Tom Vedbraaten and Dale Stainbrook expressed the most concern about building such an elaborate structure on land the city doesn't own.

    "If we owned this, I wouldn't have a care in the world about this," Vedbraaten said.

    As Chladek speaks to the owners again, council members also endorsed council member Tom Jorgens suggestion that if a sale can't be hammered out, Chladek should pursue a longer lease of, perhaps, 20 years in length.

    While recognizing the legitimate concern about owning the land, council member Hector Santellanes, who's worked closely with Melbye and Gustafson on the project, said derailing the vision so early in the process is not the best approach.

    "The sad part about this is you're already talking about moving it and we haven't even built it and put it in yet," Santellanes said.

    The bulk of the money to cover the cost will likely come from a special fund totaling $150,000 the council set aside for the square, enhancing the Wayne Hotel corner, and some potential housing rehab. Melbye remains a fan of dipping into the fund totaling $300,000 the city received from the railroad when the 8th Street Bridge was removed, which currently totals $159,000 but is growing due to annual payments from the school district, to which the city lent money to build the tennis complex at the high school. Others on the council, however, don't want to touch the settlement fund, which the council "restricted" for use only on a one-time project.

    Melbye thinks the square qualifies as a one-time expense that will reap a community-wide benefit for many years to come. "We have this fund sitting there for 10 years, and if we can't dip into it for $30,000 or so for a project like this, then something's wrong," he said.

    Jorgens seemed to favor being creative in coming up with the money to fund the square's first major structure. "We need a more business-like approach to budgeting, and that means you take advantage of worthy opportunities when they come along," he said. "We need to be willing to step up when there are opportunities to provide something truly advantageous to our community and its citizens."