United States Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) spent some time in Park Rapids on Wednesday including a stop at Armory Square for a short panel discussion on community development.

Included in this community development conversation was a discussion on state and federal New Market Tax Credit Programs, which have had a direct impact on rural communities like Park Rapids.

The discussion was facilitated by David Collins of the Hubbard County Regional Economic Development Commission. Also participating with Klobuchar were state Sen. Rod Skoe (D-Clearbrook) and state Congressman Collin Peterson.

Klobuchar greeted those in attendance saying it was wonderful being back in Park Rapids. She shared a story of her visit here during the Main Avenue renovation project. She had helped with funding for the project and made a promise at that time.

“If I got the money I would kiss the street,” she said. “I came back and the street was still a little dug up so I kissed a street lamp and that ended up in your newspaper. We have that picture of me kissing a street lamp in our office in Washington. I’m always reminded of the great work being done here.”

In discussing the New Market Tax Credits through Midwest Minnesota Community Development Corporation (MMCDC), David Collins said it has had a big impact on the Park Rapids area with a number of projects financed through the program. Some of those recent projects to utilize financing through MMCDC include the addition of the clinic and hospital, Park Avenue Plaza and dialysis center, Theilen Motors, Heritage Manor, Companeros and Armory Square.

New Market Tax Credits make difficult-to-finance projects viable through lower interest rates, partial debt forgiveness, higher loan-to-value ratios, extended amortization periods, reduced debt service requirements and/or interest-only payments for seven years.

The latest project to utilize this federal finance program is A Better Connection to build the community Health and Wellness Center (HAWC) in Park Rapids.

Julia Nelmark, Kevin Shipley and Nicole Kirchner of Midwest Minnesota Community Development Corporation (MMCDC) participated in Wednesday’s discussion, explaining the focus is on improving communities. One way to do that is to provide financing to businesses that lack capital.

“We really can’t do our work without program funding that’s available through the federal level,” Nelmark said. “New Market Tax Credits is a financing tool we are able to use to offer lower cost financing for business expansion and growth in underserved areas.”

Nelmark called it one of the most efficient and effective programs out there.

Lien explained to the group through A Better Connection she was able to set up the non-profit HAWK which will, “provide holistic and preventative behavior health services with a focus on community advancement with goal of breaking the cycle of poverty, substance abuse, domestic violence, childhood obesity, and unmet healthcare needs in central Minnesota.”

Lien explained other groups have worked to start a community center in Park Rapids but the biggest roadblock they run into is building the facility because there are not enough grants available for new construction.

Lien purchased the 23,000 square foot building that used to be Window World on Hollinger Street. She plans to renovate the current 14,000 square foot building and add a 9,000 square foot gymnasium addition. The renovation will include a commercial kitchen, offices, healthcare facilities, multipurpose room that can be divided into smaller rooms to meet community needs, and outdoor playground.

Lien’s plans for the ABC behavior health clinic is to maximize the space of the facility for clinical services during the business day and open it for general public use in the evenings and on weekends. Lien said she is trying to find additional funding to make everything affordable to the community, possibly on a sliding cost scale to accommodate lower income families.

Along with individual family care services Lien looks to provide after school program opportunities, drop-in daycare and conferences and trainings for the community.

Workforce development is another area to focus on by having a mental health professional provide work skills training, which could help people find and keep jobs, and help employers retain the staff they have.

Wednesday’s community conversation also included an update on the Upper Mississippi Center for the Arts/Armory Square. This project is awaiting final approval by the state to release $2.5 million in allocated funds for the city to purchase the facility. The city and Armory ownership group are finalizing a purchase agreement and the city is also working on a lease agreement with the Park Rapids Community Development Corporation (PRCDC), which would manage the Upper Mississippi Center for the Arts.

Sen. Skoe was instrumental in securing the $2.5 million grant for the facility.

“It is really good to be in the Armory,” Skoe said. “Progress is clearly being made, and from what I understand there are arts performances here through the summer. It is becoming a vibrant part of downtown Park Rapids. It is good to see that success.”

David suggested with more legislative support the Outdoor Classroom could be a pilot project. This is a rural opportunity with ag careers in high demand.

Lance Bagstad, Park Rapids Superintendent, provided an update on the Outdoor Classroom and the district is working to provide more ag-related career education. The district is introducing more Ag in the classroom education.

“We are starting slowly and moving toward our grand plan,” Bagstad said. “The Ag base is extremely prominent in our area. I wish we had a program we could capitalize on to show our students what we truly can do by producing food, being good stewards of the land and moving into production aspects of ag.”

Bagstad also mentioned the partnership with Team Industries in providing apprenticeship and and NIMS certification opportunities for juniors and seniors.

Klobuchar commented there are a lot of jobs available in the state and she would like to create more incentives for employers to improve workforce development through various incentives.

“We want to get kids into the careers where we have these jobs,” she said. “It’s better for them, it’s better for our economy.”