TRIMONT - It's a plight many small towns are facing: How do you stop the deterioration and start revitalizing?
It was a question Joel Rabbe and several other residents asked themselves and each other. Since the two towns of Triumph and Monterey merged to become Trimont in 1959, demographics have changed, transportation has evolved, and few businesses from that time had succession plans.
Today, the town has no grocery store, hardware store, diesel fuel, or many other common things needed for a town to thrive.
Rabbe and the Trimont Town Center group addressed these issues and their proposal for a Town Center building at a public meeting Monday.
Along with Rabbe and the City Council, representatives of the Supervalu grocery chain, engineering firms, an accountant and government entities were on hand to answer questions and explain their roles.
"If we're going to talk about it, then we need to do something about it too," Rabbe said.
The Town Center building, with a grocery store, diesel fuel, liquor store and rental office bays, is proposed to be placed along Highway 4 on the south side of town. The idea was announced in July 2010, but many issues needed to be studied.
"It's a public-private project," Rabbe said. "We need to lessen community deterioration, promote jobs, relieve poverty and retain basic goods and services ... This is the vehicle to drive to help and assist in all four areas."
Rabbe reviewed every step the organization has taken so far to make Trimont Town Center a reality.
"There was a discussion of need," Rabbe recalled. "Some of the things that came out of it were the grocery, fuel and liquor, light hardware and plumbing, a fitness center, and the business incubator space. It could create 30-plus new jobs, and there are potential spinoffs."
The first step that went beyond talking was a feasibility study.
"The two questions we wanted to answer was: Can Trimont support a grocery store, and if yes, how big of one?" Rabbe said. "We figured if the feasibility study came back 'no,' then we didn't have to come back to it. But the answer was 'yes,' and the size was 10,000 square feet."
After that came a slew of activity: land pledges, a general contractor, drafting plans; and the state Department of Transportation was contacted about road access. The group also began applying for non-profit status.
"It's a lengthy process," said Steve Pierce, who serves on the board as an accountant and is also a contact as a county commissioner. "To receive the 501(c)3 status, the focus needs to be on returning basic services to a community."
The committee also applied for a USDA 80/20 loan guarantee earlier this year.
"If the project was about $2 million, 80 percent would be guaranteed by the lenders, but for that 20 percent, we'd have to come up with the $600,000 in gifts," Rabbe said.
Fortunately, four local banks - Farmers State Bank of Trimont, Triumph State Bank, Odin State Bank and Welcome State Bank - all stepped up with the donations, pending approval of the USDA grant.
"We owe these four banks a big thanks for being willing to step outside the box and look at this," Rabbe said.
However, infrastructure to the facility would be a big cost to the city.
"The city's portion would be $338,000," said Mayor Thomas Eckmann. "And this [issue] is going back to our next council meeting on July 16."
At the same time, the project is expected to be covered by a tax abatement, in which city and county taxes will pay the expense of infrastructure. Eckmann said that city and county taxes would be sufficient enough to cover the project, and the school district would not need to be taxed.
If by some chance the project failed to pay its taxes, the city could put a lien on the property, but the annual debt service would need to be covered by a levy if the project fails.
"What I want to know right now; I want a show of hands of all of those who are in favor of this project," Eckmann said.
Nearly every hand in the crowd of about 85 people went up.
Currently, the project is awaiting word on the USDA loan and the non-profit status of the group. But there are other avenues that could be explored if one of those hopes fell through.
"There are other fiscal agents we can employ," Rabbe said. "There are still ways to bridge it.
Officials who have been brought into the project also expressed how impressed they have been so far.
"The numbers they put together were very conservative," said John Dean, who was in charge of the feasibility study. "It's a lot more complicated than just putting up four walls. I've found that for these small towns to thrive, they need to have a school ... And they need to have a grocery store. Without those two things, there's not much reason for people to come to town."
If all goes smoothly, Rabbe hopes there could be a groundbreaking as soon as this fall or early winter.