Archived Story

Despite protests, city has few roadblocks on RTC demo

Published 10:55am Wednesday, April 25, 2012

If the Fergus Falls City Council decides to demolish all or part of the city’s Kirkbride building, its legal ducks appear to be in a row. The city has had some of its paperwork pre-filed by the state of Minnesota.

When a building on the National Register of Historic Places is set to be demolished or significantly changed using public funding, the owner of the building typically is required to fill out an environmental assessment worksheet. The worksheet describes the project and submits to comments from the relevant state and federal agencies.

However, the state already submitted such a worksheet about 10 years ago, prior to turning over the state hospitals in Fergus Falls, Cass County and Willmar to their respective local government units (Cass County’s hospital was demolished, and Willmar’s was redeveloped into a business park). At the time, the state was considering demolishing the buildings.

“It’s the same set of issues that are being addressed, so I’m not aware that there would be any requirement for the city to perform that environmental assessment worksheet,” said Wayne Waslaski, representative of the Minnesota Department of Administration and a state official who has worked closely with the city on the Regional Treatment Center.

The pre-existing arrangement with the state might come in handy for the city if it goes the demolition route.

In a flyer created by the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota, people opposing the destruction of the building are encouraged to tell legislators that they don’t want state bonding dollars used to demolish historically significant buildings. Even if a movement to disallow such funding gained traction, said Waslaski, Fergus Falls would not be affected because the state’s grant contract with the city would predate any such law, and the contract states that the grant can be used for demolition.

“It’s really up to the local community to decide what they think is the right answer for each of the facilities,” he said, adding, “The bond funds in this case were already authorized.”

Still, said City Administrator Mark Sievert, any effort to attempt to defund the project is vexing.

“We’re certainly upset with that flyer; we believe that would definitely put the city of Fergus Falls at risk if we do have to tear it down,” he said.

The Preservation Alliance flyers are distributed at Kirkbride tours by the Friends of the Kirkbride. While Gene and Maxine Schmidt, two leaders of the Friends group, said they have spoken with Waslaski about the specifics of the grant, they have mostly focused their recent efforts locally, through letter writing to various media as well as to city officials.

“You seem to get nowhere,” said Gene of working with city officials. “It’s like butting your head against a brick wall.”

At the April 16 city council meeting, the Friends of the Kirkbride asked the city to invite a preservationist to its next RTC work session to talk about the building’s merits, and they asked the city to hire an outside marketing consultant to more effectively reach developers. Alderman JoEllen Thacker suggested that the Friends could raise the money for the consultant, but the Schmidts say that’s unnecessary when the city has approximately $880,000 in a fund for RTC upkeep and holding costs.

The council spent $30,000 of that money in 2011 when it tried to market the building to the last round of developers.

“They want us to raise money, and they have over $800,000 in their fund,” said Maxine.

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  • P. Carlson

    Demolish and be done with it all. The land will be worth more empty.

  • Cinder103

    I suggest ALL OF YOU that think this place should be torn down because its “worth more with the landy empty” take a look at this place! http://www.thevillagetc.com your soooo worried about “green space” heaven forbid you have something unique in your town and special. Something that will bring MANY MANY more out of towners and money into Fergus then a few houses or businesses will.

    • Swedegirl

      Erin, I say this as an “out-of-towner”- the building is in a crummy location and is in SERIOUS disrepair. If rehabing it made financial sense someone would have stepped up to the plate years ago. I’m not from Fergus Falls but I occasionally shop there and I can’t imagine anything that would draw me to that property. Frankly I find it creepy and strange that anyone would envision it as a cheerful, happy space where shoppers would come to spend money. Just my 2 cents.

      • nanajean

        You know there is no such place that is happy, that hasn’t had bad things happen. And as I recall you are definitely a townie. If you were to bring yourself up high enough to take a tour, you would see many marvelous things.

      • skysmommy99

        Serious disrepair??? Have you taken a tour?? Lets think about some of our nationally recognized places that our toured every year. Have you been to Alcatraz?? People pay tons of money every year to go see it. If you don’t book a week in advance you will not get in. Once you are in you will realize that some of those buildings are in serious disrepair. But do you see San Francisco tearing it down?? I am sure island property in San Francisco wouldn’t stay empty for long. Unlike an open “green space” in Fergus Falls. Do you not realize that if you build more houses the older homes in town will lose there value even more quickly then they all ready are!?! Wow this is some proactive thinking on the part of the city council!! Alcatraz is just one of the many national treasures that has been saved by foward thinking individuals. Mansfield prison, Winchester house, Glensheen mansion, Hearst castle, pretty much all of downtown Philadelphia, Graceland and these are just off the top of my head. Would you tear any of those down?? Wow… my view of Fergus Falls has definitely been impacted by the RTC and also on the flip side by the appalling behavior of city council members. I say you should look at the failing unemployment numbers and housing value decreases before you take a wrecking ball to any spot that you have so many willing to save!

        • Swedegirl

          Alcatraz is a landmark known for it’s dark history and preserved as such. You’re talking about making the RTC a tourist destination with shops, boutiques, restaurants, etc? The two are not even comparable! To suggest that they are is laughable.

          • Cinder103

            whats laughable and even more sad is that you guys dont see the potential in your town. Yes it could become something like that if you guys wanted it to be!

  • nanajean

    Yes we can demolish and have another field around the city, wait, we already have those. We can put a new housing development up there, but wait we have 30% empty homes now. Then again we can put a new industrial park up there, Oh no, we have those already that aren’t filled up yet. If the narrow minded would look for a vision, and actually open the city to new businesses, we would see unimagined growth in this city. Since I came here 19 years ago, all I have seen this town decaying more and more every year. The Mall has emptied, Kmart is seldom busy, same with Pamida. The only growth has been the Walmart. This was in good times and now its all blamed on the recession. In case the word hasn’t reached you in this town, the Twin Cities Metro area has spread to St Cloud, and it won’t be long until Moorhead is on our back door step. Think about this while still pushing “Shop Fergus Falls”

  • concerned

    another fine example of dirty local Govt.

  • nanajean

    If this Wayne Waslaski, is the man who is representing the state in these transactions why are we paying fees to Kent Matson who supposedly is the liaison between city and State. Seems like we are dealing with the devil and the deep blue sea

  • Kirkbride lover

    Can you people not see that the council has run dam near everything out of the mall? How about they tear that down for green space? Even if they tear it down for green space, who is lined up to buy it? NOBODY! The council is like a bunch of puppets on the hand of Mark. Why don’t we just demolish evrything in the whole dam town that is older than 5 years old? Just get rid of everything! No homes, places of work, hospital, nursing homes, absolutely nothing? This is what the council wants. Everything THEY want they don’t give a dam who they hurt in the process. It’s all about control, and what they want. Not the people. If the coucil was a council at all they would be listening to the people. $40 million over the cheesey $8 million that they have. They would rather hunt for the 3 $100 bills in a room full of $20′s. I realize there is no cure for bad choices and stupidity but the people need to wake up and see this building is the last one in the U.S.A. and Fergus Falls has it! Yes there was good and bad that happened there, the same as the hospital in town. People die, it happens everyday and is a part of life. This building may not mean a damn thing to a lot of people but just remember, there is roughly 3200 people who that was their home and a final reesting place for them. Why disturb what isn’t hurting anyone. My final question is…. would you walk up to a tiger and kick at him thinking he is going to do nothing about it? Think about it!

  • fergusnative

    Ms. Roen, Kent Mattson’s role, as I understand it, is to protect/advise the city on contractual issues between the city and state or interested developers. Mr. Waslaski is an employee of the state. Using him as the only person would be similar to only taking the advice of a salesmen on buying a major purchase. Mr. Erickson and Ms. Wangler the State Hospital is not the only Kirkbride building in the US, a simple Google search shows over 30. So they are not as unique as Alcatraz,Winchester House, Glensheen, Hearst castle, Vanderbilt mansion etc… Furthermore the City will not get 40 million because they are not the developer and they are tax exempt, those tax credits are for redevelopment.
    That being said, it would be a HUGE loss if the State Hospital was torn down. It is a very recognizable landmark for the region. I strongly believe the council and city staff is working very hard to protect the interests of the citizens. They have tried several times to lure developers, and still are. All potential parties had several issues that caused alarm for the council. You must remember our council is made up of part time government officials and must take advice from those who are hired to provide input. Very few people in the area, yet alone in the city, have experience in transactions of this magnatude. I for 1 think ALL of our elected officials and city staff are doing a great job serving the interests of the majority of the people serve.

    • Kirkbride lover

      I’m not sure what site you were on but i have only found that the Kirkbride in Fergus Falls is the only free standing origional that is in good shape for future useage left. The others have been bought or demolished. I am not sure about 30 left even close to the condition of the one we are trying to save. If the city keeps the building and keeps doing tours, and doing stuff with it and use the money for repairs they are sitting on a gold mine. I believe if they were truely wanting the people to give input they would move the time of the meeting and notify the public a lot better. As a council member myself we take out ads in the papers, radio, ect. for important things and have the meetings after 7pm so a lot more of the people can make it. How many more signatures do they need to see, people need to go to meeting before they can see that these people are pulling for the building. They are more worried about what they think, not the public at large. At our council meetings our guests are able to speak freely when called upon, free to ask questions. There they are told pretty much to shut up. Is this right? Of course not. They dont even honor our amended rights as people, so how can they care about anyone? It would be pretty hard for them to. If we denied them of :freedom of speech, told them what to do we would be told to resign or the city would have one heck of a big lawsuit. I also find it hard to believe they are trying to find a buyer cuz they are pushing so hard for demo., no timeline to work with, nitpick the people apart like they are bank robbers. It disgusts me to thing these people are the ones running your town, and you have no say in what you as a citizen can even do.

    • nanajean

      Mr. Olson, you are correct that it is not the only Kirkbride, but it is the biggest most complete one left. Which makes it as important as some of the sites listed by Ms. Wangler. It is also important as it could be a site that people from across the country would come and see, and on Rainy days people from the lakes would be happy to have some place to go. Never mind the architecture students who would get some lessons on how to really build something meant to last, and be a thing of Beauty. Also if the RFP’s were written with the proper amount of time allowed, there would be no problem for developers to meet the requirements and the 40,000,000 would be there for them to get the redevelopment going

      • holly

        Jean – I don’t think you fully understand the $40 million tax credit issue – you don’t just receive $40 million to “get the redevelopment going”. In order to utilize the tax credits, you must have in excess of $40 million in tax liability, either from taxable income from this project, or from other ventures. And in order to have $40 million in tax liability, you must have over $100 million of income coming in from somewhere in order to generate that kind of tax bill (depending on your company’s tax rate). People that have companies that make that kind of money are not going to develop this property unless they can MAKE MONEY at it – yes the tax credits can help, but there are a lot of rules and a lot of risk when dealing with tax credits and developing structures of historical significance. You don’t just come up with a proposal and get $40 million to spend on it.

  • Christian V

    both traverse city and buffalo kirkbrides were in far worse shape and are still preserved and actually restored to their former glory. Traverse city isn’t much bigger than fergus falls and it is almost full of tenants. this is THE kirkbride to restore

    • samf36

      Can you please tell me in what way the Grand Traverse area even slightly resembles Fergus falls/Otter Tail County? The dynamics of the area are very different.

      • nanajean

        Sharold. We may not be on the great lakes as the Traverse Commons, but we are in the center of an area that needs a fantastic draw. Here we are just outside of the largest lakes area in the entire state, and people have talked forever about getting the tourists here in town for more than groceries, and hardware. This is it! A beautiful building that can house boutiques, and shops all under one roof. That puts us ahead of Battle Lake or Perham. We can be the destination, or we can continue to take our visitors to those other towns. Holly I do understand how the credits work, but unless they rewrite that RFP so developers can get it done properly, it is money that this town is throwing away. We can continue to serve the few in this city or we can finally do something for the whole population. Personally I think the Many deserve a chance.

        • samf36

          Having grown up in the TC area I can tell you there is no way the 2 areas are comparable. TC is more than the Great Lakes. TC was a draw year around long before they redid their building . The building fits into the culture and the lifestyle they already had. We can not hope that our lifestyles and culture will change to fit a TC type model.

  • fergusnative

    Mr. Erickson, I agree with you the speaking publicly at a council meeting is not an ad hoc event, it is even worse at a school board meeting. But there are protocols, whether we like them or not. Try speaking on the legislature floor openly, or even at a hearing. If you work within the protocols established, it has been my experience that the council and mayor are more than willing to listen to what the constituents have to say.
    Ms. Roen I agree totally that people would come from all over to see the State Hospital and that bored lake people would also come in. However, I don’t think a good business model could be generated on those 2 premises that would make a profitable redevelopment possible. Using a recent comment from the Friends of the Kirkbride that over 3000 people (some may be duplicates) have toured the grounds since tours have began (4 or 5 years). So let’s say 1000 a year come to Fergus to tour. If you charge $10.00 a tour that is only $10,000.00 a year, maybe enough to pay the electricity. If you look at the Traverse city example, they are selling a studio apartment for 275,000.00. Very few people in this area or would consider coming to this area are going to spend that kind of money for a studio. That buys a very nice 4 or 5 bedroom house in this area. I hate to say it but it comes down to money. It just isn’t there, in a fairly low risk category that would entice a reputable developer.

    • nanajean

      Peter there are other draws to traverse then those $275,000 Condo’s. There are stores, and restaurants, entertainment halls, so many things that would be a draw. Lets be real here, the food establishments here are few, and after a while boring. There are few places of quality to shop, and it would be great to be able to shop Fergus Falls. But that is not the reality. With VISION this could and can be a real boost to this town. I am tired of driving to the cities, or Fargo, or St Cloud. To use a very tired line “If you build it they will come”

  • Cinder103

    Well Mr. Olson if you also look further on the Traverse site they do also rent these out for VERY decent prices that people would or could pay. Would you rather stay in a regular ole hotel or the RTC. I would chose a unique building that has shops,resturants and activities where I dont need to drive around. Its all in one spot. More people would come if there was more to do then just tours. With the size of that building you could easily do both. Hold musical events. We need the younger generation to be on board not against us. Holding teen dances, egg hunts, santa, any holiday activities. The possibilities are ENDLESS there and like Mr. Erickson said a GOLD MINE! If the developers were given a fair chance this place could be something amazing. Green space isnt the answer. You already have a unique place to restore and work with, why tear it down and add something you alreay have. You already have money sitting in the council that they can USE to restore this place! Be decent and give the developers a fair chance and work with them instead of against them.

  • KLJones

    Peter Olson is the only commentor on here that makes any sense and seems to know what he is talking about.

    • Cinder103

      This is what is frustrating, people like you Kim that come on here and make comments when you yourself OVIOUSLY havent done your own research. The people devoted to saving this place have put in LOTS of time to get the FACTS, so before rambling off about how we dont make any sense I suggest you do some looking up of info on your own, thanks!

      • KLJones

        What’s entertaining about this is that you are the ones who do not have your facts straight and are being mislead.

        • Cinder103

          Ok, well all i have to say is:
          The highest form of ignorance is when you reject something you dont know anything about–Wayne Dyer
          Its ok we find it alot in your area.

  • Kreft

    I think it’s a beautiful place. I have not taken a tour of it but would love to do so. I do not believe this town needs anymore houses, or places for new business to go. We have plenty of open spaces for businesses to move into!! I think it should be kept around.

    • Cinder103

      Thank you Felicia! Pleaes do take a tour its well worth it! Its free of charge and about 2 hours long. You will fall in love! They are fridays at 2pm. Please call maxine at 218-736-5328 to make your reservation. Also check out Friends of the Kirkbride on facebook!

    • nanajean

      Ms Kraft, you are welcome to tour this building, and as Erin has stated you will fall in love with it. It is the only place in town that has the grandeur that is seen in so many historic homes. No one here seems to appreciate it, they would just as soon see this stay a farm town, and not have anything here except new nursing home to take care of us, but then who will be left here to do that

  • shamrock

    At the April 16 city council meeting, the Friends of the Kirkbride asked the city to invite a preservationist to its next RTC work session to talk about the building’s merits, and they asked the city to hire an outside marketing consultant to more effectively reach developers. Alderman JoEllen Thacker suggested that the Friends could raise the money for the consultant, but the Schmidts say that’s unnecessary when the city has approximately $880,000 in a fund for RTC upkeep and holding costs.

    The council spent $30,000 of that money in 2011 when it tried to market the building to the last round of developers.

    “They want us to raise money, and they have over $800,000 in their fund,” said Maxine.

    I’d like to know what they did with the rest of this money ? If they have 800,000 dollars, then why are they NOT doing some repairs..

    • Cinder103

      I wish there was a “like” button. Thank you Bev!!

    • fergusnative

      Bev, the city is not doing any repairs because they assured its’ constituents that they would not spend city money on the State Hospital when they took ownership of it from the state. I assume they are holding any moneys they got from the state to help sweeten the pie for any potential developers. Why would the city do repairs that might be changed when a new owner took over, that would be a waste of tax dollars.
      Mrs. Thacker is a very smart person for her comment regarding marketing the State Hospital and I think the majority of the citizens of Fergus would be in favor of saving the building if a reasonable proposal came forth. However, more and more just want a final decision to be made. If the Friends of the Kirkbride are serious about saving the State Hospital, they need to spend some money and get it saved.

  • Kirkbride lover

    I did attend the meeting April 16th and did ask the council if we raised the money for a marketer to come in, if they dont start tearing it down. Not one of the council members could give an answer. That tells me even if we did raise the money they don’t care about it. These council members don’t want to spend any money on it and keep it. If i could afford the retainer i would definently purchase this for myself and live there as well. I just don’t understand why if they have a retainer and the person buys it they can just step back into the picture and demo it anyway. Shouldn’t that be up to the purchaser to do? I know i wouldn’t buy a house then a year later the guy i bought it from can tell me what i can and cannot do with it. Like they said in the demo show, either it will start to plummet or it will start to sky rocket in value if some money is invested. My shot would to be make it worth something. Something else as well, the state gives Fergus Falls “operating and maintanance funds” to keep this place going so it doesnt cost the city a dime. If they are not doing anything with the money where is it going? Smells pretty fishy to me. Kim, before you start trying to insult us with your psycobabbling maybe you should take a tour and find something to base what your writing on. Lets see what the bottom line is here that you claim to know of. Unless you don’t have anything i suggest you let your ignorace shine upon someone else that may impressed with it. Felicia, this is wonderful that you can see what we do. Make sure you and everyone you can think of that would help tries to make the next council meeting.

  • skysmommy99

    To all those who believe that Fergus Falls can’t take on this project and excel in it I want to provide an example from a town that backed a developer and made it excel. This town is called Gary, SD population in the last census 227!! (Fergus population 13,138) The project they took on was the former school for the blind, 9 huge buildings on over 47 acres. The buildings were mostly abandoned after 1980. Once in a while, kids broke in to look around, as did raccoons and squirrels. Human visitors started a campfire in the old school auditorium and charred the floor. These buildings were in far worse shape the campus of the RTC. If you watch the video about this transformation you will hear how it took the whole community to get involved!! A community of 227 people transformed a building in far worse shape and turned it around. It is now a thriving resort, restaurant, campground, business center and much much more. I invite you skeptics in a town that 50 times the population of small town Gary, SD to view their website and see what community involvement can do to help the Fergus Falls community. In no way am I connected to this marvelous resort (I wish I was) Right now Gary, SD puts Fergus Falls to shame for a destination location. http://www.buffaloridgeresort.com/ If I can’t compare it to Alcatraz I can compare it to something that the RTC could become. Council members I implore to remember the decisions that your Grandfathers or Great Grandfathers would have made when this building was brought to Fergus Falls. You really want to be the legacy that tears down what your forefathers built??

  • Jake Krohn

    Lots of passion on both sides of the issue here. I wonder, though, if it’s possible to restart things from a few common agreed-upon statements, as I believe that recognition of and concession to a few basic principles might help to clarify the challenges and benefits of redeveloping this site:

    1. This is a big, big place. End to end, the main building is over 1400 feet long. This is, coincidentally, about the same length of Lincoln Avenue between Union and Cascade. So it’s no exaggeration to say that the total square footage enclosed by all three floors of the main building meets or (very likely) exceeds that of all of downtown. And this doesn’t even take into account the various outbuildings scattered throughout the rest of the grounds.

    2. This was not designed to be an office park or shopping mall. Obvious, but worth re-stating. This facility was built to be a medical treatment center acting as a fully-functional city unto itself. At its peak, it held over 2000 people and several hundred more employees. This would make it about the third-largest community, population-wise, in Otter Tail County today. This sort of scale of patients and employees, with the financial might of the entire state of Minnesota behind it, made possible the amazing upkeep of the buildings, the grounds, and the physical plant that kept the building heated in the winter.

    3. We lack the local resources to adequately handle this kind of project. No one likes to admit defeat, but it has become rather clear that there exists a lack of the kind of capital — not only financial, but political, technical, and, perhaps most importantly, inspirational — that is required to get a project like this off the ground using only local means. This is more than a part-time effort and we should treat it as such.

    4. And while it is true that the Friends have done amazing things in defense of the building, saving the facility must be more than an act of heroism by a passionate few. But, in a similar vein, destroying the building must also be more than a forced council decision spurred on solely by the sight of disappearing state aid. Economics matter, but they are a crass way to swing a wrecking ball. History, aesthetics, and a sense of place matter as well.

    Re-reading this, I fear that I come off as more skeptical than I mean to be. To be clear, I love the place and think that we would be doing ourselves a major disservice by demolishing it. If you look at the kind of development that goes on today, one could easily come to the conclusion that what may go up in the place of these buildings (if anything) would be far less grand and a disappointment to those who feel an obligation to honor our history and the kind of places we used to make.

    But to pretend that matter like a doubling of our downtown wouldn’t affect some of the good things we already have going on in Fergus Falls or that some boutiques and restaurants would be enough to keep the lights on in a place like this is to deceive oneself about the magnitude of the project.

    It’s a big, messy issue. And because of this, there needs to be even more talking and more time. I do believe that there is a larger contingent out there that wants to see these buildings remain but are turned off by the argumentative nature of debates such as these, or who feel disenfranchised by a process that doesn’t encourage citizen input at forums billed arguably as “public.” Aside from Gene and Maxine and their years of volunteer efforts, is there anyone working on this project full-time in an official capacity? And if not, why?

    These places aren’t going anywhere, contrary to the testimony of the engineer at the last work session. This is still a pretty freshly-abandoned building, and one whose vacancy came into being during a time of severe upheaval of the credit and real estate market. Let’s not return to those days of ever-expanding bubbles, but let’s also not get stuck with the notion that our situation will remain unchanged, either. Because situations do change, and sometimes in weird and unexpected ways. Surely we can look beyond the looming deadline and negotiate a better deal of protection from the state by assuming the position of a city that wants to capitalize on this unique asset but just needs more time to do it. Because a successful re-use of the RTC wouldn’t benefit just Fergus Falls. It could become something great for the entire state.

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