The focus of economic development in Wilkin County should be on youth, according to Bruce Yaggie. The Breckenridge, Minnesota, businessman presented an idea to build a large, multipurpose entertainment center to the county Economic Development Authority (EDA) at their Thursday, April 15 meeting.
“If we want to attract a younger environment, we need to have something like this in our area. Breckenridge has facilities that need a facelift, and need to be developed into something great. We need a destination place where people want to come,” Yaggie said.
Named the Infinity Center, the venue would ideally include a children’s discovery center, two basketball courts, Skywalkers Trampoline Park and a hockey arena. It would be built into the former Mycogen Seeds building, at the intersection of Highway 75 and Highway 210 in Breckenridge.
The idea has been in the works since the 1980s and 90s, but it was revitalized in 2012, Yaggie said. The vision for the Infinity Center is different from the Wahpeton Rec Center, slated to be built by the Walmart across the river.
He said the recreation center and the Infinity Center could work in tandem to enhance the greater Twin Towns Area.
“We want these two groups to be in communication and do this right because we can’t put together something that’s going to compete with each other,” Yaggie said. “... We felt like we could coexist together and we don’t need to build together. Maybe we can create a Southern Red River Valley instead of Wahpeton-Breckenridge.”
A large draw of the venue would be its children discovery center. Locals Madison Schuler, Kristin Brevik, Beth Deal, Kellie Buck and Joni Frolek helped found the children’s discovery center board.
They are a self-described group of mothers with a goal to provide more opportunities for Twin Towns youth. Their backgrounds are in business, education, economic development, engineering, public policy, advocacy, public health and science.
“We’re very concerned about the sustainability of our community and how we’re retaining and attracting new families to live in Wahpeton-Breckenridge,” Schuler said.
Deal said their vision started as a children’s museum space. They feel passionately about educating children on local industries through exploration and play. Exhibits in the center could include a supermarket, agricultural area, railroad and medical area, to name a few.
“It would be so exciting for the kids to be like, ‘Oh, dad does this, and now I get to do this here,’” Deal said. “I think it’d be really cool to get them excited about where they live and what their moms and dads and friends get to do.”
The center would also include a STEM area for children aged 10-14. Brevik, who comes from a science, technology, engineering and math background, said having options for older youth would be essential to keeping them engaged and excited about the fields.
The children’s discovery center could also offer after-school programs. It’s important for older youth to begin drawing connections between the different subjects they are learning in school, and an after-school program could do that, Brevik said. The center could also be utilized during the summer and serve as a community education space.
Yaggie said he will be meeting with Breckenridge Public Schools to discuss if the Infinity Center project could complement what the district and community has in mind for the referendum year.
The women have met with a museum designer who has worked in rural communities across the country, Brevik said. The cost estimation is $50,000 for consultant and designer fees and $2 million for building the interior space.
Yaggie has secured $4 million in private funding, and his wish, he said, would be for the EDA to match the private funds. However, Thursday’s meeting served more as an introduction to the project rather than a request for funds, he said. It was important to make the EDA aware of his idea, Yaggie said, but he wants to go through the planning process quietly.
The county is in a unique position, with the impending arrival of a $14 million settlement from the Fargo-Moorhead Diversion Authority. Around $4-6 million will be allocated toward rehabilitating and building housing in Wilkin County.
The county will receive the remainder of the settlement in yearly payments of around $800,000 after the completion of the project, or after eight years, whichever comes first.
County commissioners Dennis Larson and Eric Klindt said they fully supported the Infinity Center idea, but they don’t know if it’s something the diversion settlement money can fund. Klindt said the board has already had multiple people come forward with plans on how they think the money should be spent.
EDA member George Schuler said operating under the assumption that people want to live in the county isn’t enough. They must also have amenities to attract people to the communities.
“Housing’s a great idea, but we gotta complement that. And I think we really need to start addressing the problem of getting people here and getting them to stay,” George Schuler said.
The county board has not formulated a plan for the remainder of the money, but they feel a portion of it should be saved to assist with future damages that may arise from the diversion project, Larson said. The diversion project could potentially cause flooding in the northern parts of Richland and Wilkin counties.
“All of this money coming in is for damages, and we don’t know what those are yet,” Klindt said.
Larson and Klindt said they could foresee allocating a portion of the settlement funds to the EDA, but the funds would have to be used in a way the county could justify to the diversion authority.
Yaggie said he plans to pull from private and public sources to fund the center. Something like the children’s discovery center could be a ripe opportunity to secure grants, if it operates as a nonprofit.
“This is a great benefit for the community and the outstanding communities,” George Schuler said. “It’s centrally located, it’s easy to get to, and most importantly, it’s going to spur interest in the economies that we have going on … It’s really a game changer for Breckenridge.”