If the latest discussion among city officials about what should become of what is being called "the JJ's wall" is any indication, it's becoming more and more clear that something is going to have to give. Or maybe the better term is someone will have to give.
At this week’s Crookston City Council Ways & Means Committee meeting, City Administrator Tony Chladek updated council members on where things stand. And where precisely do they stand? In limbo might be the best way to describe the situation. And why is that? Mostly because no one appears quick to volunteer to pay the cost necessary to get the north wall of JJ's Bodyshop, exposed ever since Polk County demolished the Wayne/Palace Hotel a couple years ago, in good enough shape to potentially be home to a mural designed by Crookston High School art teacher Gary Stegman.
On one hand, some appear to believe that JJ's Bodyshop owner Jodi Dragseth should pay for at least some of the wall improvements. "She wanted that building down so bad," Ward 6 Council Member Tom Vedbraaten said of Dragseth's concerns about the deteriorating condition of the historic hotel building in its last years.
Mayor Dave Genereux, while not singling out Dragseth, questioned the wisdom of the city stepping in financially to help improve privately owned property. "It is not our building," he said. "If the city does something to fix this up, then I've got a building I want to you fix up, too. It's not going to happen."
The council has set aside funding to turn the corner into a paved parking lot and add some greenery. Stegman is looking to utilize a $10,000 Legacy grant to help make the mural a reality. His creation features a philosophical saying over a depiction of the lobby of the Palace Hotel from its glory days long ago.
But making the wall itself better? No one has set aside money for that, and no grant dollars have been lined up. Chladek said Dragseth has gotten some estimated costs on various ways to shore up the wall, from the bare minimum to something more substantial, and the costs range dramatically.
What about the county? The county owned the property, after all, when it went into tax-forfeit status. Chladek said he's spoken to Polk County Administrator Chuck Whiting and gotten the feeling from that discussion that the county commissioners aren't inclined to actively address the issue.
"I think the county will wash their hands after they get rid of the lot," At Large Council Member Wayne Melbye said, in reference to an upcoming auction in which the city will look to secure a portion of the parcel necessary to make the parking lot happen. "...We didn't make any promises to anyone, but when we got the grant to put up the mural, it looked like we were taking some ownership in this project. There was concern about an eyesore downtown and what we were going to do about it."
Page 2 of 2 - Maybe the county should think twice, however, about not being involved in improving that eyesore, Public Works Director Pat Kelly said. To the council's recommendation to Chladek that he set up a meeting with some county commissioners, Kelly said Dragseth needs a prominent seat at the table as well.
"Jodi needs to be in on it and she needs to be more forceful," Kelly said. "That was a joint wall of a tax-forfeit building. When the county took it down they exposed an interior wall of a privately owned building. I think there should be some responsibility on their part. ...Being it was a common wall, I would think they would at least go half-and-half."
Chladek told the Times Wednesday he's still trying to schedule the meeting. Dragseth was unavailable for comment on this story.