On proposed mixed-use development downtown, CHEDA places the ball in City's court

Mike Christopherson

If a proposed mixed-use development is going to happen in downtown Crookston on and adjacent to the property where the former American Legion stands that would feature an apartment building with underground parking, main floor multi-use/business space and a new downtown square and ampitheater facing the Red Lake River, the ball is now in the Crookston City Council’s court.

That was the vibe after a two-hour CHEDA Board of Directors meeting Tuesday, at which CHEDA Executive Director Craig Hoiseth and some of his board members said that after almost two years of talking with the developers, CHEDA has taken the proposed project about as far as it can, and it’s going to be up to the city council to make the big decisions necessary to make it happen. 

“We’ve brought the project to this point and the developer says it’s ready to go, if the City wants to do it,” Hoiseth said. “The developer is ready to move forward, but is the community of Crookston ready for this? That’s the question on our plate right now.”

The project would require of the City an investment of approximately $1 million (for the new downtown square), the establishment of a 20-year tax-increment financing (TIF) district, and the forfeiture of two City-owned parking lots north of Trinity Lutheran Church and south of the Legion building.

Hoiseth has been working with Craig Tweten of Dakota Commercial, which has partnered with Community Contractors on two similar developments, one anchored by Up North Pizza in downtown East Grand Forks, and the other known as the Selkirk on 4th development in downtown Grand Forks. Community Contractors has an extensive history in Crookston, most recently constructing Agassiz Townhomes and, previously, the three newest student residence buildings at the University of Minnesota Crookston. Hoiseth said Dakota Commercial to date has invested around $25,000 on design and documentation to get the downtown Crookston project proposal to its current point, but is now seeking clarity on whether or not the City of Crookston is interesting in moving forward. Hoiseth said Dakota Commercial would like to bid the project by January 2021. He noted that Dakota Commercial has already sought bids to demolish the Legion building, and Bertils Gravel of Crookston provided the low bid.

Dakota Commercial’s primary interest is in the 39-unit apartment building with one, two and three-bedroom units with underground parking and the first-floor commercial space, the latter of which Hoiseth said CHEDA could remain involved in as far as trying to secure one tenant to lease the entire 7,700 square foot space, or multiple tenants to share partitioned off, smaller spaces. The City’s investment in the $1 million range comes into play with the new downtown square, which would basically be the local community’s addition to the Dakota Commercial project, spurred by a recent downtown master plan, created by JLG Architects in partnership with community stakeholders, which recommended relocating the current downtown square from the former Central High School property to a more visible area closer to the river. (JLG is also the architect working with Dakota Commercial and Community Contractors on the proposed development.) 

The City’s investment could be less than $1 million or more than $1 million, Hoiseth said, depending on what’s included or not included in the new downtown square.

The price tag for the apartment complex itself is “on the north side of $7 million,” he noted, adding that Dakota Commercial has a purchase agreement in place with the owner of the Legion building.

Rich Clauson, engineer with Widseth, has also noted previously that a redevelopment of South Ash Street in the area of the project could also be buoyed by state funding.

Parking issue

Hoiseth said businesses and other property owners near the project site were surveyed, and although the response was limited, he said adjacent businesses owners came through loud and clear that they are greatly concerned about losing parking spaces for their employees. Although he mentioned that Trinity leaders have indicated they may be open to letting some of their parking lot be used by nearby businesses, Hoiseth said Tri-Valley Opportunity Council’s pending move across the street to the renovated Fournet building could be key for freeing up more parking spaces. The Tri-Valley Board of Directors has said that, when it comes to what becomes of their soon-to-be former home at the corner of North Broadway and Robert Street, they want what’s in the “community’s best interests,” Hoiseth said. He said demolishing that building and making it a parking lot would be in the community’s best interest if the mixed-use apartment building and downtown square project comes to fruition.

If the building were to be demolished, it’s likely that the state would want to take a serious look at modifying the corner of North Broadway and Robert Street, which is a challenge safety-wise for pedestrians to navigate and is a particularly tight squeeze for large semi tractor-trailers.

Community input

CHEDA Board Member and Ward 2 City Council Member Steve Erickson said the proposed development needs to be included on an upcoming council agenda. Mayor Dale Stainbrook suggested that some kind of community input meeting be scheduled as well, since taxpayer dollars would be involved.

“We should start with what the community is willing to spend on what they want, or don’t want,” Erickson said, noting that a story from several weeks ago in the Times following a tour of the Selkirk on 4th site in Grand Forks generated a positive response from readers posting on social media. 

“Community input is important for this kind of money,” Stainbrook said in promoting some sort of community meeting to further discuss the project. “We may get 10 people or 100; we won’t know until we do it.”

Interim City Administrator Angel Weasner asked Hoiseth to package in writing the scope of the project and what specifically would be required from the City. He said he’d do that, and also said that Tweten has said he’d be willing to come to Crookston to further detail the project and answer questions.