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Top 10: River Falls Journal building to be new police department

Forum Communications Company, parent company of RiverTown Multimedia, signed a purchase agreement for the RiverTown Multimedia building at 2815 Prairie Drive in October. Though the building is set to be sold, Publisher Neal Ronquist said the company is committed to maintaining a presence in the local communities currently served by that building. File photo

Editor's note: This story is part of a series looking back at some of the biggest stories of 2018. Find the rest of the series here: Top Ten 2018.

The city of River Falls expects to close on its purchase of the River Falls Journal building, at 2815 Prairie Drive, in early January, according to Assistant City Administrator Julie Bergstrom.

The City Council unanimously approved a purchase agreement with Forum Communications Company (FCC) at its Oct. 23 meeting. FCC owns RiverTown Multimedia, including the Journal building.

"Forum Communications Company is pleased to come to an agreement with the city of River Falls to sell the River Falls Journal building to the city," said Neal Ronquist, Group Publisher for RiverTown Multimedia and Group Publisher for the Duluth Media Group. "The city of River Falls has been a great partner to work with on this transaction."

The 2815 Prairie Drive building will serve as the new location of the River Falls Police Department. Bergstrom said the city recently had investigators look at the building, and ensure that it was suitable for a police department. With some renovations, Bergstrom said, the building will be.

"It's a great building. It's in very good shape," Bergstrom said.

Bergstrom said the city expects to close on the purchase oJan. 4. She will likely be approaching local banks for financing the purchase of the building in early January. That will be on the Jan. 8 council agenda, Bergstrom said.

It is possible, Bergstrom said, that the city would lease the building for about a year, until the city is ready to make renovations.

"That gives us time to work with the architects, and come up with a design and the necessary modifications," Bergstrom said.

She expects renovations will start in the summer of 2020.

The need

At the time of the purchase agreement, City Administrator Scot Simpson told the Journal the city had been assessing space needs for its emergency services. He said the city planned to find new space for the police department first.

"Essentially the building's outlasted it's useful life," he said of the current police station, "and it's time for us to move on."

Simpson said consultants recommended the police department have at least 25,000 square feet of space to meet its needs. But, building a new police station that would meet the consultants' recommendations would cost between $9 million and $13 million. The city was able to budget about $7.5 million for a new facility, with the hope to begin work in 2022 on a new building. If that had been the route chosen, the building could have opened in the latter part of 2023.

Building new at that price, Simpson said, the city would have to sacrifice on space.

The Journal building costs about $1.5 million. Renovations are estimated to bring the total between $3.5 and $4.5 million, and allow the new police station building to match the recommended space needs almost entirely.

The 2815 Prairie Drive building is a good fit in other ways too, Simpson said. Police buildings need mixed office and warehouse/garage space, which is exactly what the Journal building contains. The location also provides the opportunity for expansion in the future.

At the Oct. 23 meeting, Police Chief Gordon Young said he had visited the building and believed it would serve the community for years to come.

"I expect this facility to last for decades," he said.

Simpson said that due to the community policing model employed by the RFPD, with officers on patrol in the community, moving the police station from downtown to Whitetail Ridge should not affect officer response times.

The newspaper

The Journal announced the opening of the then-new building at 2815 Prairie Drive in the Oct. 14, 2004 Journal. The building had housed River Falls Journal, Hudson Star-Observer, New Richmond News and Pierce County Herald staff until recently.

While FCC and RiverTown Multimedia Group are selling the building, Ronquist said, the papers will maintain their presence in the River Falls, Hudson, New Richmond and Pierce County areas.

"The River Falls Journal, RiverTown Multimedia Group and Forum Communications remain committed to providing the residents of River Falls, and the surrounding area, with excellent products both in print and online," Ronquist said, "including the River Falls Journal, the River Falls Journal Express and our specialty publications.

"The newspaper industry continues to evolve and the reality is we no longer need large physical spaces for equipment and people. Technology affords our staff the ability to work remotely, and text, email and other forms of communication allow us to maintain strong customer relationships.

"Generating great content about the people, businesses and organizations of the River Falls area remains our focus and mission. We will continue to produce and deliver our products to your doorsteps, or mailboxes, as well as continue to fulfill our civic obligation to give back to the community."

Gretta Stark

Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.

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