Crookston aims for rental revival
CROOKSTON — Sheets of plastic film covering second-floor windows provide a hint to passersby that the historic Union Building in downtown Crookston is coming back to life.
Inside, crews worked late last week against a deadline to finish six new apartments that officials hope will be available for rent by October.
They’re among 15 second- and third-floor apartments in downtown Crookston renovated this year as part of a public-private community development program that officials hope will be a key to attracting new residents and businesses to the city of about 7,900.
“Our goal is to increase the population density in our downtown,” City Administrator Shannon Stassen said. “That’s the focus, to fill up the rentals. If we can do that, we believe storefronts will follow.”
Housing, especially rental housing, is one of Crookston’s chief challenges, Stassen told Crookston City Council members at a recent strategic planning session.
A housing study last year indicated Crookston needs another 155 to 180 housing units — rental property and single-family houses — in the next five to six years to keep up with demand.
“We could use all of that,” Stassen said, “and rentals are the biggest gap.”
The downtown rental rehabilitation project is a partnership between the city, local property owners and the Northwest Minnesota Multi-County Housing and Redevelopment Authority. The federal Community Development Block Grant program is providing $12,500 per unit under the two-year program that ends in December.
The Union Building, a now-vacant building built on Roberts Street in 1890 that has housed a variety of businesses over the years, is owned by Northern Properties, a partnership formed by local businessmen Jerry and Tim Persson.
“We’re only able to do 15 units, but most people agree we can do way more, if we can get the funding,” said John Scheving, MNHRA community development director.
The agency is in the process of applying for the next round of funding for another 15 to 20 housing units in 2015, according to Lee Meier, MNHRA executive director.
If approved, the money would rehabilitate a mix of downtown apartments and single-family houses in the near-downtown Woods Addition.
“It would be nice if we could double that number,” Stassen said. “Housing is a key to keeping a labor force. We have industries that have been growing, but they can’t expand as much as they would like to, because there’s a challenge finding employees.”
“It’s universal,” Meier said.
Industries throughout the region are relying on employees who commute daily from 30, 40, 50 miles or farther away.
“We feel we could attract people to Crookston if we had places for them to live,” Stassen said. “It’s an incredible bang for your buck, and you get the smaller town quality of life.”