Ag Innovation Campus: 'Full vision still in play,' just not all at once

Project manager says heavy equipment is arriving to move dirt

Mike Christopherson

Heavy equipment has arrived at the site of the Ag Innovation Campus on a 10-acre site on Crookston’s southern edge to start moving dirt.

AIC Project Manager Jim Lambert says the scope of the project, at least initially, continues to be significantly impacted by spikes in construction materials, so the plan is to build the AIC in stages. Stakeholders are thinking it’ll be three stages, but if cost and budget-wise things take a turn for the better, Lambert said, the preferred scenario would be two stages.

“We had a great budget and a great idea in October, then by April costs were up 40%,” he explained. “So we’re retrenching, with the full vision still in play. …We’ll take small bites instead of all at once.”

The AIC, which will feature a crush facility for soybeans and other commodities, will also be home to research bays for businesses and agencies to lease, such as the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute (AURI), and several offices.

The AIC, which stakeholders say has a mission unlike no other facility in the nation, is looking to boost its budget through multiple funding channels. Lambert said he recently met with U.S. Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minnesota), and a $6 million request for the AIC “made her cut” and will go to the Senate. He’s hoping for word on the fate of the funding request in August or September.

Lambert said the AIC has also been given a loan by AgCountry, the first loan, he said, the lending agency has ever given to a non-profit. “They’re excited,” Lambert added.

Meanwhile, the Crookston City Council has approved a memorandum of understanding with the AIC, specific to a grant opportunity through the USDA that recently emerged. In all, $10 million is being made available, and the AIC will be seeking $750,000. City Administrator Amy Finch said the City needs to be a co-applicant, and the MOU details both the City and AIC’s responsibilities. Essentially, she explained, the City will be a flow-through, fiscal agent of sorts.

“I’m so happy they found (the grant opportunity),” Finch said, adding that the grant program has a “pretty narrow” scope and that only seven or eight initiatives will likely submit applications. “It’s a way for the City to help with no financial obligation.”

In updating the council in April, when he first mentioned the scaled-back facility due to rising costs, Lambert hinted that the AIC might come back to the City or CHEDA at some point seeking some direct financial assistance in the $400,000 range. At that time, Lambert mentioned federal American Recovery Act dollars being the source of such financial assistance. But in his latest update this week, Lambert didn’t refer to any potential funding request.

The first stage of construction will include the mechanical crush facility, some office space and research bays. Including all three components in the initial phase will allow the AIC to immediately start to fulfill its mission, Lambert said. As more capital becomes available, the plan is to add more bays and increase office space.

“We’re cautious; we want to be careful with taxpayer dollars,” he added. “…We’re moving ahead as best we can with the resources we have at this time.”