Arts center plight needs another look

Downtown Elk River has a lot going for it, despite a poorly timed revitalization project.
One of its best and brightest rising stars is about to vanish, unfortunately, if city leaders — elected, appointed and otherwise — don’t pull back on the controls and look at the bigger picture.
The Elk River Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA), minus a couple of its best and strongest members, acted swiftly on some ground level information in the interest of public safety a couple of weeks ago.
The Elk River Area Arts Alliance received notice they need to be out by Nov. 6. Wow! HRA members didn’t even realize they were acting that swiftly.
The view from 50,000 feet, however, has shown there are more palatable options to consider than one that calls for an immediate eviction.
From my perspective, the view from 100,000 feet became even clearer while watching this past Monday’s Elk River City Council meeting. That’s when City Council members, probably feeling lucky to not be at the center of the firestorm over the potential demolition of the Arts Alliance Center, covered the topic of reconvening the downtown task force to work on planning for the downtown.
The news flash that ran through my head is the future of downtown Elk River is best served by a robust arts center in the heart of the city.
We have a sliver of that now, but the full-blown model would be for city leaders to figure out a way to help the Arts Alliance get across the street to the former First National Bank building. I’m not suggesting the city open up its checkbook and write a $2 million check.
I do, however, think elected and appointed officials along with other city officials could go to bat for the Arts Alliance endeavor, which to my way of thinking has the best interests of the community at stake. They could assist with financing. They could press some of the most lucrative businesses about backing an arts center. They could study other communities to see how it has been done elsewhere, and review the economic merit an arts center has in a downtown setting.
I don’t see it as the Arts Alliance having a handout like some do. I see it as the Arts Alliance asking the city and the community to walk hand in hand with them.
Looking at it in that light from 100,000-plus feet, it’s easier to think the building at 716 Main St. might be dealt a different fate. At least a different card.
After all, Elk River is not powered by wrecking balls. It is powered by natural resources like the Mississippi River that the downtown overlooks and it’s energized by the arts — be it a downtown concert or a show at the Arts Alliance.
A regional arts center operated out of the former bank building would pull thousands of people to downtown. The former bank building could be remodeled to include classes, practices, performances, and interactions and support for one another.
The Arts Alliance Board of Directors envisions a small theater, a gallery, a gift shop and offices on the main floor.
The lower floor could house a meeting room, library, kitchen and studios for music, ceramics, painting/drawing and multi-media.
The top floor, with its majestic views of the Mississippi River, could contain offices and a board room.
Other entities could partner and make the facility their home, too.
This proposal deserves more attention by this town’s movers and shakers. Instead, the Arts Alliance is getting the boot.
Can you imagine if the 716 Main St. location housed the Elk River Area Chamber of Commerce and they were pushed out on the street in the same fashion?
I think it’s deplorable that the Arts Alliance, which represents much more than just the arts community, can be so easily marginalized. It’s up to city leaders to not let that happen, and the list of leaders includes more than the members of the HRA.
It would be nice to know when the next generation brings their children down to a concert in the park there will be an arts center to pop into to check out the latest works of art and consider signing themselves up for a class or two.
If that’s not possible, we will probably know which set of community leaders to point a finger at. It doesn’t have to be that way.
I applaud Larry Toth of the HRA for opening the door to the possibilities, suggesting at this past week’s City Council meeting that a special meeting of the HRA is in order. That’s a great first step.
I hope that meeting is held at 150,000 feet in the air and not at ground level. Elk River’s future looks much better from that vantage point. — Jim Boyle, editor

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