LITTLE Falls - The Buckman Building in downtown Little Falls has undergone a facelift and it now is smiling on some of the city’s senior citizens.
Actually, it may be more accurate to say the 94-year-old building has had full-body plastic surgery. In recent years, the Buckman has more resembled a belfry than the hotel it was during the first half of the decade. When renovation of the building began in February, 1994, the Buckman was a dilapidated, bat infested testament to the demise of Little Falls’ commercial district.
Similarly, its $1.96 million restoration signals a renaissance, a renewed commitment on behalf of the city to preserve its historic downtown area.
A cooperative effort between the city and MetroPlains Development of St. Paul has transformed the Buckman and the adjoining former fire hall into a 27-unit, state-of-the-art apartment building with genuine turn-of-the-century charm for senior citizens.
Just beyond the entrance lobby, which is complete with a restored, pressed metal ceiling, is a grand staircase that ascends to two floors of apartments.
The parlor, also off the lobby on the Buckman’s first floor, features three stained-glass windows (one of which is an original found during construction) a fireplace and furniture ideal for reading or commiserating.
The dining room, where residents are served lunch seven days a week, occupies the same first-floor location it did during the heyday of the Buckman Hotel.
Modern-day amenities include an elevator, beauty shop, whirlpool and coin-operated laundry facilities.
Adding to the Buckman’s character is the fact that no two units are alike. All apartments have a living room, kitchen, bathroom and bedroom’ but each one is set up differently.
From his apartment on the third floor, David Colombe has a breath-taking view of the Mississippi River as it meanders through town. Although it has only been a month since he moved here, he said unequivocally that it’s the best apartment he has ever lived in.
"I love it; it’s 100 percent better than where I used to be," he said, referring to his previous apartment on Fifth Ave. SE. "You don’t hear any barking dogs or any kids hollering. I don’t even notice the traffic."
Mary Zok moved into her apartment across the hall from Colombe on Feb. 20. It didn’t take her long to adjust to her new surroundings; she said she already feels at home.
"I think they’ve done a really wonderful job with this building instead of tearing it down," she said. "It may not look that great on the outside, but it sure is nice on the inside."
Although construction began just 14 months ago, the wheels of renovation have been turning at city hall for nearly four years. In the interim, the city searched for ways to subsidize the project and for its efforts received a Small Cities Grant from the Minnesota Department of Trade and Economic Development and a grant from the state Rural Economic and Community Development Agency.
Community Federal Savings and Loan, Federal Home Loan Bank and St. Gabriel’s Hospital also made significant contributions.
Susan Haugen, manager of city offices, said the years of hard work is paying dividends’ because the Buckman restoration allows the city to satisfy two far-reaching objectives with one project.
"We needed senior citizen housing and we were looking for a way to use the vacant building in the hope of revitalizing a downtown, historic resource," she said. "Things couldn’t have worked out better. Taking a vacant old building and turning in it into a showpiece, it was really well done. It’s been a success in all areas."
Much of the credit for this success belongs to MetroPlains, which Little Falls commissioned for the project after city officials conducted on-site inspections of its previous renovations.
The city sold the Buckman and the former fire hall to MetroPlains which hired a Fargo N.D., contractor for the construction work.
Larissa Rippley, development coordinator for MetroPlains, said the company has a 50-year farmer’s home mortgage on the Buckman and will operate the complex for the next half century through its subsidiary, Garsten Management. Although there is still some outside painting and landscaping that needs to be finished before the project can be called complete, Rippley said she can’t believe how well everything has come together to this point.
"I think it looks amazing," she said. "In fact, it looks better than I ever thought it would, and I watched all the way through the constructions. It’s just great for this community."
Residents of the Buckman must be 62 or older, physically challenged or disabled. Their gross income must not exceed $14 350 for one person or $16,400 for two people. Rent is based on 30 percent of the resident’s adjusted monthly income. Rental assistance is available for some unites. Twenty-two of the 27 apartments have been filled. For information, contact Marilyn Kapsner at (651) 632-3387 or 1-300-776-5561.
Reprinted with permission of the Brainerd Daily Dispatch, Brainerd, Minnesota May 8, 1995.