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Crookston Times - Crookston, MN
  • CHRISTOPHERSON COLUMN: Old, empty buildings aren’t the real hazard

  • Instead of talking about killing a moose or demolishing buildings, let’s target the true public health hazard in this community.
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  • The first thing that crossed my mind as I stood next to the old Cathedral Church on Ash Street the other day, after Kay Hegge voiced her suspicions to me about just what caused a few bricks high up on the south wall of the historic structure to fall down to the grass below, was, “I wish I was strong enough to throw a brick that high.”
        I figured I could get a brick maybe halfway up the wall. If Hegge’s suspicions are true, I think I’d miss an easy shot on the 8-ball on purpose after a couple beers at I.C. Muggs if I was playing the guy burly enough and strong enough to launch a big brick that high into the air. I wouldn’t want to irk that guy, so maybe letting him win a game of pool would be the way to go.
        This is all kind of weird. Hegge, who leads the Prairie Skyline Foundation, found among the fallen bricks on the grass below one brick inside a white plastic bag. So what does that indicate, exactly? Well, Hegge thinks someone knowing there are some loose bricks on the structure might have seen to it to knock some of them down. Were they simply senseless vandals looking to kill time by breaking something? Or are there more diabolical forces at work here? Did someone want a bunch of bricks to fall to possibly shorten the life of the structure whose spires have dominated the downtown Crookston skyline for generations? Did someone want a bunch of fallen bricks to possibly alert city officials to a potential public health hazard?
        It might be moot at this point. The fallen bricks were brought to the attention of the Crookston City Council and Mayor Dave Genereux, and with images of a brick bonking some innocent kid on a skateboard dancing in their heads, city officials took action. A public safety hazard notice was filed in Building Official Matt Johnson’s office, requiring the Prairie Skyline Foundation to take action to remedy the situation within 20 days. If after 20 days the situation isn’t resolved, the city steps up its response, and if more time passes and the building is still considered hazard to the public’s safety, the city has the potential to really crack down, and the future of the old church as it currently stands could then be in jeopardy.
        So here we go again, right? Another long-time vacant Crookston building continues to deteriorate, a public safety concern is declared, and Hegge and those like her who believe such structures can be shored up enough to survive until a wonderful development project comes down the road decry once again the city’s and county’s unofficial demolish first, ask questions later policy toward old, empty, falling-apart buildings.
    Page 2 of 2 -     It happened with the old Palace/Wayne Hotel building. To a quieter extent, it happened with the Z Place, Rock’s Jewelry and, most recently, the Professional Building. All have been demolished. Now that the old Cathedral is back in the headlines, Hegge is quick to report that a Legacy grant is being sought to get an engineer’s report on the condition of the structure.
        Once again, that’s certainly far better than absolutely nothing happening, right? After all, you have to take baby steps before you can clear the big hurdles awaiting down the road...in the form of costly redevelopment projects of old, historic buildings.
        Some might think that getting little grants here and there simply prolongs the inevitable, that finding the truly big bucks necessary to give an old building new, prolonged and vital life is nothing more than a pipe dream.
        If that is indeed the case, then maybe we need to switch our focus and target our grant search on dollars to try to get rid of all the pigeons who call our downtown home. Their favorite home, the Wayne Hotel, where they piled feces high enough to bury a backyard shed, was taken from them, so they scrambled to the Z Place and Rocks Jewelry buildings. Then those were ripped right out from under them, and now they hang out at the old Cathedral and on any other available perch downtown, and they are epic producers of ornithological fecal material everywhere they go.
        Yeah! Let’s rally around that cause! Instead of talking about killing a moose or demolishing buildings, let’s target the true public health hazard in this community. Let’s kill us some pigeons!

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