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State nominates Lakeland Hotel building in Willmar, Minn., for National Historic Register

The Lakeland Hotel building in downtown Willmar is among 12 buildings from around the state nominated to the National Register of Historic Places last week by the Minnesota Historical Society State Review Board. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

The Lakeland Hotel building in downtown Willmar has been nominated to the National Register of Historic Places. The Lakeland was among 12 buildings from around the state that were nominated last week by the Minnesota Historical Society State Review Board at its meeting in St. Paul.

The nomination now goes to the keeper of the National Register for a final decision, which is expected sometime in February.

An official with the Minnesota Historical Society says the National Register is the federal government's official list of historic properties worthy of preservation. Listing in the Register provides recognition and assists in preserving the nation's heritage, according to Britta Bloomberg, deputy state historic preservation officer.

The nomination form presented to the state board said the Lakeland Hotel is eligible for the Register for its local significance in the area of commerce. The hotel relates to the Minnesota statewide context of railroads and agricultural development from 1870 to 1940.

"Constructed in 1927, the building was the city's principal commercial hotel from the late 1920s through much of the twentieth century. Moreover, it was one of the city's chief gathering spots. With a period of significance ranging between 1927 and 1958, it is a good example of a refined hotel in an out-state urban center achieving maturity in the early decades of the twentieth century,'' the form said.

According to Bloomberg, if the property is listed in the National Register, certain federal and state investment tax credits for rehabilitation and other provisions may apply. Listing in the Register does not mean that limitations will be placed on the property by the federal government. The government will not attach restrictive covenants to the property or seek to acquire them, Bloomberg said.

The Lakeland's nomination was initiated by the Willmar Design Center. The Design Center, according to its website, is a local nonprofit organization focusing on revitalizing downtown Willmar and renewing downtown as a social, cultural, government and economic center.

Design Center Project Coordinator Beverly Dougherty attended the meeting and said she was told that the state does not know of any time that nominations have passed the state level and were rejected at the national level.

"It was an exciting night in St. Paul ... (when the board) approved the application for the Lakeland to be on the Register. It would be a huge thing for Willmar,'' she said.

"I learned a lot of things to help save some of our other buildings in Willmar,'' Dougherty said.

One of the Design Center's goals is to develop market-rate rental housing in downtown Willmar and the Design Center believes such housing could be created at the Lakeland.

To help achieve that result, the Design Center has received $20,000 in grants to pay an architect to develop preliminary plans and cost estimates to show the feasibility of creating five market-rate apartments on each of the Lakeland's second- and third-floors.

Architect Richard Engan of Willmar, who was commissioned to do the study, said if the building is listed on the National Register, the developer would qualify for a 20 percent state income tax credit and a 20 percent federal income tax credit on all improvement costs.

Engan said the Cardinal Square building is the only major apartment improvement made in downtown Willmar in the last 60 years.

"This will be a big tool to make this a very feasible project for a developer. This will give a developer information needed to develop the apartments and tax credits will help the feasibility of it,'' he said.

"This will give financial assurances that the developer can meet the expectations that will match what the clientele will pay,'' said Engan.

The property has been owned for the past 18 months by Bremer Bank of Willmar, which obtained the building in a mortgage foreclosure. Tom Amberg of First Minnesota Realty of Willmar is the agent selling the building. The Pennock Company, another business owned by Amberg, is handling management and maintenance.

Amberg said he's trying to maintain the lobby as original as possible, making sure the skylights, wood trim and wallpaper remain. The street level is dedicated mainly to retail space. Businesses located there are Somali Star Restaurant, Rosita's Restaurant, New Tribe Tattoo, and Hilda's Hair Salon.

The second and third floors have a total of 32 apartments, most of which are one-room studio units equipped with small refrigerator, microwave and a bed. There are shared bathrooms and two shared kitchens with operating stove and refrigerator and microwave.

Amberg said prospective renters go through background and credit checks. "We're very picky,'' he said.

Amberg said he's been told by investors who have looked at the building that the $299,000 listed price is a heck of a deal.

"This is a fantastic building. You can't replace any of these downtown for what these are selling for,'' said Amberg, who owns the former downtown Habicht department store building.

"If I replaced it brick for brick just the way it is right now, you're looking at a $7-some million property. You can't replace this character. You can't replace the walls, the wood, and remainder at one-fifteenth. It's hard to replace these.''

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150