If all goes according to plan, the Crossing Arts Alliance will have a permanent home in downtown Brainerd.
The nonprofit organization -- founded several months ago to promote the arts, preservation and lifelong learning throughout the lakes area -- is expected to occupy a 3,000-square foot storefront in the 600 block of Laurel Street.
Once the home of Sylvester's Clothing Store, the space is part of the historic Parker Building, a downtown landmark that is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.
Evelyn Matthies, alliance president, said this week she hopes to sign the final version of the lease before week's end, assuming a "couple of minor sticking points" can be worked out with the building's owners, Ed and Susan Menk.
E.L. Menk Jewelers has occupied an adjacent storefront at 623 Laurel St. since 1984, and the family purchased the building in 1988, Ed Menk said in an interview this week.
Both parties to the negotiations expressed strong interest in finalizing the terms of the lease, which call for a 24-month occupancy at $1,250 per month. It also gives the alliance access to a 3,000-square foot storage space in the basement.
The street-level space, which has been vacant since Sylvester's closed its doors nearly two years ago, will be used for alliance-sponsored exhibits, lectures, performances and the group's permanent offices, Matthies said.
"We desperately need a facility we could call our own so the public can become acquainted with our ideas," said Matthies, a long-time Central Lakes College art instructor, working artist and private gallery owner.
"We wanted to start on a small scale and evolve into something much bigger," she said, adding that the alliance will be examining the possibility of purchasing the building during the duration of the lease.
Matthies said there's an "expectation of purchasing" the building, but "not at this point."
"It might be a pipe dream but gosh, when that building changes hands you know all the things that will have to be done," she said, pointing out that building codes and historic designation may create barriers to restoration that cannot be overcome.
Menk confirmed that although he is not actively trying to sell the building it might be available for purchase at the right price and to the right buyer. He and others close to the negotiations declined to say whether the lease terms included a purchase option.
"One of the reasons I said yes (to the lease) is because the alliance is an upscale organization that will be a positive addition to downtown Brainerd," Menk said. "I am also familiar with many of the people involved in the alliance and their character indicates they are long-term players."
Menk, who already has inked two earlier versions of the lease, said he is giving the alliance plenty of time to finalize the deal.
"When you're dealing with a committee, there's never a deadline on anything," he said. "It's always fast forward in slow gear when you're dealing with a committee."
Pending a final agreement, Menk has granted the alliance permission to begin occupying the building immediately, in preparation for the group's first public event on Aug. 18.
The alliance has scheduled an opening night reception for a photographic exhibit by Dispatch photographer Steve Kohls.
The alliance plans to make minor improvements prior to the exhibit, including removing a dropped ceiling to expose the original tin tiles, improving the lighting and painting the walls.
Matthies and other alliance members expressed strong interest in one day expanding into the building's upper two floors, which include a large ballroom suitable for chamber-sized performances.
Restoration, however, would require significant expenditures for bringing the structure up to fire and building codes, including a sprinkling system and additional exits.
The alliance hopes to conduct an engineering study and cost assessment in the months ahead.
The alliance's long-term plan also calls for construction of a 2,000-seat performance center, perhaps in conjunction with the local school district. The group's facilities committee is exploring several options in this regard.
In other news, Matthies said the alliance is expected to announce the hiring of a full-time executive director in the near future. The board of directors has narrowed its choice to a single candidate, which she declined to identify until the job has been offered and accepted.
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