Ryan Howard / Daily Journal: Scott Kvamme asks the Fergus Falls City Council to save the Kirkbride building during a packed council meeting on Monday night.

Archived Story

RTC demo process started, door left open

Published 11:01am Tuesday, May 8, 2012 Updated 11:19am Tuesday, May 8, 2012


Though there were comments upon comments at Monday’s Fergus Falls City Council meetings, nothing encapsulated the audience of 200’s sentiment more than the spontaneous outcry that went up when Randy Synstelien moved that city staff begin preparing plans and specifications for demolition of most of the Kirkbride building – everything besides the center tower.

The council still unanimously approved the motion, disappointing most of the crowd, but preservationists’ hopes were kept alive when aldermen voted to create a community task force dedicated to finding solid marketing for the whole structure.

Synstelien made the motion around a half hour into the RTC discussion, which went on for more than two hours. The council had recently learned that the Minnesota Department of Administration would extend the city’s Kirkbride demolition grant to the end of 2014, but special advisor on the RTC Kent Mattson said that in light of recent developments with people challenging the grant, the city should move forward with whatever its plan would be sooner rather than later to allow time to get past potential lawsuits.

“That extension might be eroded through those processes, unfortunately,” he said.

Though aldermen asked some clarifying questions, much of the meeting was given up to the throng of RTC preservation supporters, from both inside and outside of city limits, who came to give their points of view on the building. Ideas for reuse varied from historical tourism destination to haunted house to long-term mothballing to getting Mayor Hal Leland to put in a plug for the building to Jay Leno on The Tonight Show, but the intent behind all of the ideas was the same: save the Kirkbride.

The most common theme of the comments was that the Kirkbride represents a city asset, not an albatross.

The Kirkbride, said Tim Hunt, is the only thing that sets Fergus Falls apart from other prairie towns. If it torn down, he said, “Might as well put a sign on each side of the city and the freeway: ‘Approaching Fergus Falls – Welcome to Nowheresville.’”

Maianne Preble, an Excelsior resident with a master’s degree in historic preservation, came to the meeting to say that her study of the nation’s Kirkbrides shows that the Fergus Falls site still has potential.

“The Kirkbride you have is in fact the best preserved in the country,” she said. “To argue that it is, you know, deteriorating beyond any ability to rehabilitate it is outlandish.”

Former council member Desta Hunt took some of the blame for letting the RTC reach this point in the demolition process during her plea to save the building.

“You never really got a feeling that it might go away,” she said. “And so I think right now … suddenly we’re saying, oh my gosh, it might go away.”

Some were frustrated, lobbing out angry comments as council members spoke. Others expressed their frustration at the podium.

“I’m tired of seeing the city eviscerating itself in ways like this,” said Jake Krohn.

The lone citizen who spoke at the meeting not fully in favor of redevelopment was Jerry Johnson, who identified himself as neither a friend nor foe of the building.

“It can stand there for a hundred years, I don’t care, as long as it doesn’t affect my pocket tax-wise,” he said.

Some aldermen zeroed in on Johnson’s statements, referring to calls and letters they had received from taxpayers who don’t want the cost of the RTC’s upkeep or demolition to fall on local shoulders.

“Demolition is not our goal, but if it’s the only thing that comes up because nobody else can come up with something … we aren’t developers ourselves,” said Stan Synstelien. “We’ve got to come to an end sometime.”

Led by JoEllen Thacker, the council also approved the formation of a community task force with the goal of helping the council come up with an aggressive marketing strategy to find a developer for the RTC. The city can then pursue redevelopment while still preparing for demolition if no one comes through (a timeline for demolition will be further discussed at a later meeting, but previous estimates had the city going out for demolition bids in July). The city’s heritage preservation commission will make recommendations of task force members.

Though approving of the task force decision, many in the audience still felt the council was doing a poor job handling the situation, as evidenced by a comment from John Strauch during the demolition discussion referencing Election Day.

“If we can just hold off, come November maybe some of you won’t have to make that decision,” he said.

The crowd went wild.

  • Pingback: Council approves first step in RTC demo process | The Fergus Falls Daily Journal

  • nanajean

    If this thought process continues regarding demoing everything but the tower, and it seems a possibility, I would fully support the Demolition of the Tower also. It is no longer a draw for the community, but a place that certain people in town would love to move their offices too, and build up a row of paper houses. If it goes it all goes

  • P. Carlson

    I agree. There has been more than ample time if someone was willing to spend the money to keep the tower. Only those who thought the taxpayers should foot the bill have shown interest. Too bad those 2 movies were denied. I bet that would have made the buildings more desireable. Now, it is time to use the state demolition funding to make the bare land more saleable before it is too late. Taxpayers should not be stuck with that expense.

  • Kirkbride lover

    Right on! If they demo the building demo the whole darn thing! That way nobody can get any use out of it! Personally the city doesnt deserve to have this treasure that stands proud there on the hill. Keep it as a whole or have nothing!

  • Mr. E. Nigma

    Wow, what a spoiled view point. “If I can’t get what I want, nobody can!”

    Enough with the conspiracy theories people!

  • Mr. E. Nigma

    If that’s the attitude the Friends of the Kirkbride are going to take, then their arguments to save the building in the first place have no legs to stand on.

  • Kirkbride lover

    I am not for leveling the whole place by any means. When someone thinks F.F.R.T.C. what do they think of? I think of acres covered by beautiful buildings, architechture, the struggles and victories of what that place has stoof for. I enjoy every minute of time i get to be there. To me to tear it down would be very hard to see for me. It would be like to me cutting off my arms and legs and leaving the rest vulnerable. Keep it as a whole it will make it. If they tear it down and the buildings are gone how can anyone move anything into it, thats what i am refering to here Edward.

    • nanajean

      Exactly Mike, If they are going to trash it, Why would they save the tower. If you look at all of the ones that they have demolished, and left just the tower building, its because some one has special designs on it, for their own purposes, and don’t care what anyone else thinks. Its like offering an appeasement to those who have worked so hard to keep it as is. The only reason the are making an exception of the building is because they have their own purpose. They won’t give it time so we can fix things, and I really don’t want to see a lawyers office or something similar there.

      • John

        Jean, perhaps it is a compromise? Perhaps this is the portion that the majority of the citizen’s who have emailed the Council would most like to stay? There are more than just the Friends group who reach out to the council members, and I think it is quite evident the Council tried to appease both “sides” Monday night. Not only did they leave the dual track, they proposed to allow an aggressive marketing campaign. This is the time the Friends of the Kirkbride will be the most important players, get out and help find a developer… Spread the word! Turn your attention from the constant attacks and conspiracies towards finding a re-use because the time is now. You guys keep saying there are a ton of ideas and things that can be done with the building, well now is the time to focus on that! The city has made it quite clear that they want this to be saved and are providing opportunities for that to happen still, which of course you will disagree with.

        • nanajean

          John Doe, since you are one of those who cannot use their name, it seems to me that you don’t really want to be heard. A compromise means meeting in the middle and saving one little building does not make the cut as a compromise. What I feel is the “City” has a plan for that lil building and so it will “Rescue” that portion. We are working on finding a solution to this problem, and manage to keep the whole thing. That is the only thing acceptable. I would like to hear where Mr. Nigma stands other than to call names

          • John

            Oh don’t you worry Ms. Roen, I have been heard and am very pleased with the direction the council has taken.

    • Mr. E. Nigma

      If that’s the case, then I’d argue that the historical value of the RTC really isn’t that much if you’re willing to part with the whole thing.

      If you truly cared about its history, then you should be grateful if any of it was left standing.

      • BrendanJanssen

        Edward, I believe they are trying to press the same point that applies to most antiques: The antique is not worth very much if only a small portion of it remains. The same can be said about the RTC. The historical value of the complex dramatically decreases if only 1 very small portion remains. It will no longer be a tourist attraction. It will no longer be able to serve any secondary purposes that are worth their weight in salt. Therefore, what would be the purpose of keeping the tower if the rest of the complex is demolished?

    • Mr. E. Nigma

      I just really oppose this attitude that the Friends of the Kirkbride have taken. You’re cutting off your nose to spite your face.

      You’ve turned it into an us vs. them situation when it never really needed to be.

  • Kirkbride lover

    Jean, especially a criminal lawers office.

    • Mr. E. Nigma

      Quit throwing out rumors and tip toeing around the subject. Cite your source and start naming names or drop the mud slinging.

      • nanajean

        Thats where you are wrong, It is as a whole a place for all people to come, a place of serene beauty. A place where any kind of business could flourish.But with all the nay sayers, and those who are to busy to be of help with direction, after a while a person feels down about it. There are people behind the scenes, who are working with people like the accessor who are saying it should be demolished, but then the council states they want to keep the tower. Even in FOK there are things that aren’t being shared. It keeps everyone from doing anything. Maybe that is one of the reasons that the Police Department is not doing its due diligence to protect. Right now I am encouraged that we finally had some support from the community, but its time to give up this lets what and see attitude

      • J Mullins

        E.nigma , while your opinions have the ring of reason, were they co-authored by your twin, Phaedrus W?

  • Pingback: Preservation Alliance of Minnesota » Fergus Falls RTC Resources

  • jtysver

    Does the grant money from the state of Minnesota for the demolition of the RTC magically appear or is that also funded by us as taxpayers? Either way, we will be paying for this facility whether it stands or gets demolished. Don’t fool yourself, taxes will not go down if this building is demolished.

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