Lanesboro Arts Center associate director Courtney Bergey briefs the Lanesboro residents on the fundraising aspect of the upcoming Lanesboro Arts Campus during the art center’s annual meeting on Saturday.  BRETTA GRABAU/REPUBLICAN-LEADER
Lanesboro Arts Center associate director Courtney Bergey briefs the Lanesboro residents on the fundraising aspect of the upcoming Lanesboro Arts Campus during the art center’s annual meeting on Saturday. BRETTA GRABAU/REPUBLICAN-LEADER
As the weather warms up and snow melts, the Lanesboro Arts Center has partnered with the Lanesboro Area Chamber of Commerce and the city of Lanesboro to begin focusing on implementing plans to enhance the community through the Lanesboro Arts Campus initiative.

On Saturday, March 15, area residents turned out to hear a presentation by Courtney Bergey, the Lanesboro Arts Center assistant director, and one of the landscape architects in charge of the project, Gabrielle Grinde, from Hoisington Koegler Group, Inc.

According to the Lanesboro Arts Center (LAC) presentation, the idea behind the arts campus is to create "a community-focused economic and cultural development initiative designed to accomplish three aims."

The first of these aims is to spur economic growth and vibrancy in Lanesboro and the surrounding communities. Second, the arts center seeks to enhance the quality of life for the community, both current residents and those residents to be attracted in the future. Third, the campus will provide opportunities for memorable cultural experiences for residents and visitors.

With the arts campus, the Lanesboro Arts Center hopes to increase the vitality and quality of life for the residents of the area; attract new residents, businesses and investments into the community; build on the existing businesses and investments; enhance the locally serving amenities and attract many new visitors.

There are several key elements under the Lanesboro Arts Campus umbrella to achieve each one of these goals. One, which is currently underway, is the renovation of the St. Mane Theatre. The Lanesboro Arts Center and the Lanesboro Community Theater currently use the theater for concerts, films, dramatic performances and much more. The Lanesboro High School also performs their plays in the space.

Renovations have been contracted through AWH Architect, serving as the project's architect, and Construction Collaborative, who won the bid for the general construction of the area.

The improvements began in February in order to repair the basement and foundations for better air quality.

As a part of this restoration, the organizers are working on adding the St. Mane Theatre to the historical register.

The second floor of the theater will also undergo improvements to include an artist-in-residence studio and apartment and dressing rooms for visiting performers.

If everything goes according to plan, these projects will be completed sometime during the summer months, although later on, the box office and lobby will eventually be restored to its original look.

The façade of the Lanesboro Arts Center gallery building, which is in the historic district, will also undergo a restoration to enhance the downtown business area.

Another element of the arts campus construction is the Bass Pond Parking Lot. The goal for this component of the arts campus is to encourage people to use the lot rather than parking in front of businesses and congesting the downtown. The architects toured Lanesboro last summer and considered several areas of improvement.

The first is to create a better first impression. According to Grinde, "The first impression now going down the hill is a port-a-potty."

To improve the appeal of the parking lot, more shaded areas have been considered to attract parking. This could include a poetry abacus and greener lot with native plants and rain gardens incorporated throughout the parking area. Other suggestions include displaying information about what Lanesboro has to offer and the history of the area as well as artistic or poetically-designed signage around the lot.

As the campus plan emphasizes connecting the parking lot to the downtown area and the Root River Trail, the designers hope to create a clear connection to the underpass for pedestrians to follow. In order to fulfill this hope, the architects intend to create more green spaces and gathering or picnicking areas between the Bass Pond Parking Lot and the historic walking bridge.

One idea is for a community gathering area with seating in the shade and an easily accessible river access for fishing, all the while designing the area for flood maintenance. The possibility of adding permanent and temporary art made from native materials adds to the attractiveness of the project.

In order to clearly designate the route through the city for tourists to travel, a series of artful way-finding signage will be developed along Lanesboro's pedestrian walkways to encourage walkability and connect the Bass Pond Parking Lot to the downtown business district. These will create a clear and engaging walking experience, fill in the gaps for the pedestrians and connect the Poetry Parking Lot to the city.

As with any project, the creation of the Lanesboro Arts Campus is not cheap. The projected budget for the construction is $1.1 million; however, $775,000 has already been raised through various grants and donations.

During the course of this year, the Lanesboro Arts Center will continue pursuing grants and donations for the remainder of the funds.

According to John Davis, the Lanesboro Arts Center executive director, the project aims to raise about $100,000 more from local individuals and businesses.

Many of the grants and donations have come from renowned national sources. The Lanesboro Arts Center has received recognition from several national organizations such as ArtPlace America, the National Endowment for the Arts and Americans for the Arts. Other state organizations contributing to the funds include the Minnesota Historical Society and the McKnight Foundation, among others.

No money from the city of Lanesboro will be expended for this project. The city already maintains the public spaces that will be improved and with the design of low- to zero-maintenance additions to the spaces, the project aims to be cost-neutral for the city.

The public should be assured the Lanesboro Arts Center, the city and the Lanesboro Area Chamber of Commerce will work together to make sure this remains the case.

The initiation of this project will manifest benefits for the area through providing more money coming through the local economy in order to help existing businesses thrive. This will be achieved through attracting new investments, residents, businesses and visitors to the Lanesboro area.

There are several other assets within the Lanesboro community that are considered to be part of the larger Lanesboro Arts Campus vision, including the Commonweal Theatre Company, the Lanesboro Public Library, the Lanesboro Community Theater, Sylvan Park, Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center, Discover Sculpture Explore Lanesboro, the Historic Lanesboro Dam and others.

Though these assets are not a part of Lanesboro Arts Center's current capital improvement plan, they are valuable assets in the attractiveness and vitality of the city.

As the plans for the Lanesboro Arts Campus continue to be refined, organizers want ideas, input and suggestions from the community, along with any questions the residents may have about the project.

The members of these organizations will work with the input from the residents to create the master plan for the campus, which will begin construction in late spring.

To share these suggestions, offer resources or support the project financially, one may contact the Lanesboro Arts Center at (507) 467-2446 or e-mail Courtney Bergey at admin@lanesboroarts.org.