Chamber would donate to Artspace survey

Published 9:11 am Thursday, June 5, 2008

Through the fall and winter of 2003 and 2004, the Albert Lea-Freeborn County Chamber of Commerce and the city of Albert Lea conducted the Albert Lea Area Listens Program. One of the consistent themes that existed throughout the sessions with more than 800 of our area residents was the need to restore and revitalized Downtown Albert Lea. This need was expressed, again, with the visits of the Minnesota Design Team and their interaction with more than 300 residents.

With the restoration of the Freeborn Bank Building and the creation of the Broadway Ridge Renewal Fund, the city has begun to address these issues. Recently, Artspace Projects Inc. visited our city for the purpose of a feasibility study. This nationally recognized, nonprofit developer was asked to look at our downtown and several of the existing buildings to determine their level of interest in doing a project in Albert Lea.

The Chamber of Commerce was very involved in the meetings that took place over the course of their two-day visit. We participated as a member of the steering committee, as well as taking a place at the finance meeting late on Monday.

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Some of our members were in attendance at the meeting with the arts community, as well. Monday evening, the chamber was well-represented at the public meeting at the Marion Ross Performing Arts Center where Artspace staff explained what they did to determine feasibility of a project and shared many of their projects with those in attendance.

On the Tuesday of their visit, the steering committee met, again, with Artspace Projects staff. At that time, we heard that they were impressed with our community, its committed leadership, and its intention to grow. They identified the Freeborn Bank and Jacobsen Buildings as a potential home for 18 apartments designed for artists with studio space and living space. As with their other projects, the ground floor would be retail space.

Artspace Projects Inc. has a 100 percent success record when taking on the redevelopment of a project. One of the factors behind that success is the completion of an artist market survey prior to agreeing to move forward. It surveys an extended area to determine whether there are enough artists living here or nearby who would be willing to relocate and are economically eligible. The cost to the city of Albert Lea would be $25,000. Only 50 percent of the sites visited are offered the opportunity to perform this vital survey.

The city of Albert Lea has requested that various civic groups join as partners in this project. This would not only show a united community but, also, help defray the cost to the city.

The Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors reviewed this request at its recent board meeting. Many of the directors participated in the meetings and saw the benefits of the project and, after discussion with some of our members, determined that the Albert Lea-Freeborn County Chamber of Commerce should partner with the city of Albert Lea on this project. The board passed a motion donating $1,000 toward the artist market survey upon an agreement being reached with Artspace Projects Inc. The city has been informed of this action through a letter to Albert Lea Mayor Randy Erdman.

Our mission statement is “to promote and develop a healthy and positive business climate and to improve the quality of life in the Albert Lea-Freeborn County area.”

To this end, the Chamber of Commerce believes that the Artspace Projects Inc. endeavor meets all the criteria necessary for us to offer our support. We encourage other groups to do the same at whatever level they see fit. It is a unique opportunity to answer the voice of the people and, perhaps, continue the rebirth of Downtown Albert Lea.

Randy Kehr is the executive director of the Albert Lea-Freeborn County Chamber of Commerce.