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Fate of historic building in Fergus Falls could be decided tonight

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The Fergus Falls City Council will likely decide Monday night whether to preserve or demolish a building that has defined the city for generations, but has been sitting vacant for nearly a decade.

The old Regional Treatment Center, a huge structure that looks sort of a like a castle, housed patients with mental illness from the 1890s until it was closed in 2005 (read a history of the building here). Ever since then local leaders have been trying to find other uses for the complex.

They've been hampered by the facility's enormous size – the main building is 500,000 square feet – and its location in a small city in the western part of the state, not very close to the Twin Cities or other larger population centers, according to the Star Tribune.

After a series of proposals came and went, a developer that specializes in historic buildings presented to the city a $41 million plan to renovate the complex into apartments, a boutique hotel, restaurants and other offerings.

The city agreed to pursue the plan with developer Ray Willey and his Georgia company, Historic Properties, Inc. in June 2013.

But city officials have grown increasingly frustrated with Willey over the past year and a half as little progress has been made toward finalizing the deal, the Fergus Falls Daily Journal reports.

Willey has not provided financial information and documentation requested by the city, and his last chance to do that will be at Monday's City Council meeting where the council will vote whether to move forward or pull the plug on the redevelopment, the Journal reports.

The city is up against a deadline to decide what to do with the building. It purchased the facility from the state of Minnesota for $1 in 2007, and was granted $4 million in state money to help pay for the cost of renovation or demolition. That state grant expires in 2016, so time is running out on a decision.

The Regional Treatment Center, also known as “the Kirkbride,” is on the National Register of Historic Places. It was designed by psychiatrist Thomas Kirkbride, who revolutionized the design of facilities for treating the mentally ill in the late 1800s, MPR News reported.

Unlike earlier asylums, which resembled prisons, Kirkbride designed buildings that were long and narrow, so every room had windows.

At one point the facility housed nearly 2,000 patients, and hundreds of area residents worked there over the years.

A vocal group of community residents called Friends of the Kirkbride has been fighting for years to keep the building safe from the wrecking ball.

“Everybody has been touched by this building,” Laurie Mullen, chair of the Friends of the Kirkbride, told the Star Tribune.

The group is hoping large numbers of people will turn out at the City Council meeting to show their support for the Kirkbride's renovation plan.

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