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CROOKSTON HOUSING: Wayne Hotel to receive a facelift

CROOKSTON - It appears the landmark Wayne Hotel just might dodge the wrecking ball after all. The deteriorating fixture in the heart of the city's downtown district for 111 years has been a demolition target for some time, after the tax-forfeited...

CROOKSTON - It appears the landmark Wayne Hotel just might dodge the wrecking ball after all.

The deteriorating fixture in the heart of the city's downtown district for 111 years has been a demolition target for some time, after the tax-forfeited property fell under the control of Polk County.

Now, Twin Cities developers, who want to turn the old hotel building into an apartment complex, say they've secured an important financial jump-start to save it.

Officials from St. Paul-based Metro Plains said Tuesday the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development Agency has awarded $1 million to the group for its project to restore and renovate the hotel into modern affordable apartments with a historic flair.

"It's a very important first step for us," said John Errigo, with Metro Plains.


If remaining funding hurdles fall into place, construction and renovation could start as early as next summer, Errigo said.

Metro Plains also asked the city of Crookston and the county to join as local funding partners in the project with an estimated construction cost of $3.1 million.

Errigo made the pitch Tuesday before the Polk County Board of Commissioners. City leaders also were on hand for the meeting, including Mayor Dave Genereaux and Crookston City Administrator Aaron Parrish.

Parrish expressed the city's willingness to get involved in some fashion to help the project.

Metro Plains is the second development firm that has tried to renovate the Wayne Hotel. A local group failed to garner enough financing to do it nine years ago.

"This is a great project to move forward with, and it's fortunate to have developers with capacity to take it on," Parrish said.

City, county effort

Both the city and county already have pooled money to seal up the building to prevent further weather damage.


The County Board decided not to make a decision Tuesday but to study the issue further before committing to the project. Board members generally seemed supportive of the restoration project.

Warren Affeldt, board chairman, said, however, opinions on whether the County Board should be spending money on a city building differ widely across the county.

"We're going to receive some criticism, no matter what we do," he said. "But, to me, it makes sense."

The new USDA Rural Development funding allows Metro Plains to move forward to secure other funding sources - federal, state and local - to make the project a reality.

Next, Errigo said, Metro Plains will seek tax credits from the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency that would allow developers to keep apartment rents more affordable. Other financing also would be pursued.

Building history

The Wayne Hotel, set in the heart of Crookston's downtown district, was built in 1896. It has been placed on Preservation Alliance Minnesota's list of The 10 Most Endangered Historic Places.

After sitting idle for more than 10 years, the building has deteriorated rapidly to the point where it's unsafe to venture inside, officials say.


"Certain parts of the structure have only remnants of a roof, and in other parts, the floor system is becoming disengaged," said Metro Plains' Vern Hanson, who recently toured the building.

Discussed before

In the past, county commissioners have discussed the possibility of demolishing the building. A contractor's estimate put the cost to do just that at about $300,000 about two years ago.

Historic preservation advocates have argued to spare the building.

Metro Plains wants the county to spend money that possibly would have been used to demolish the building to restore it instead.


Errigo said it would be best if the county indicated its support for the project before the end of the year, in time for the MHFA's next funding round in February. If that deadline is missed, Metro Plains would have to wait until June for another chance, and construction wouldn't begin for another year.

"We'd like to move on this as quickly as we can," Errigo said.


He said the city of Crookston also could help in the matter by applying for a federal Small Cities Block Grant that could be used to help fund the restoration project.

Errigo said local partners would show state and federal funding agencies that there is strong support for the project.

County commissioners wondered how they could commit funds that have not yet been budgeted. But Metro Plains officials said the county money might not be needed until the project is nearly complete, giving the board more time to budget.

"I think this is the best option that we have for the Wayne Hotel, and it may be our last," Commissioner Bill Montague said. "As a resident of Crookston, I really want to see this go."

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