Deal would give space; with substantial renovation costs footed by Larson

By Louis Hoglund

Under an agreement with the city of Pelican Rapids, Larson Funeral Home will relocate from its residential location to the upper level of Pelican City Hall.

The upper level of Pelican Rapids City Hall has come back to life after being a dead issue for several years. 

The resurrection of the entire level, oddly enough, will come with death—in the form of a funeral home. 

Larson Funeral Home, an institution in Pelican Rapids—but tucked away in an east-city residential neighborhood–will gain highway visibility and an impressive expanse of square footage. 

Presenting the plan to the Pelican council May 10 was Chris Smith, Vertin Funeral Homes, the parent company of Larson—which was represented by Jade Petznick. 

The city agreed to essentially donate the upper level, for a buck. Gutted and unfinished, the entire level is in “shell condition,” as Smith described it. New restrooms, ceilings, plumbing, electrical, walls, and finish work will be needed. 

Also needed—a sprinkler system, required by code for the building with two occupancies: Funeral home on top; city hall on the bottom. 

The council agreed to contribute to the sprinkler system, estimated at $100,000. The city’s contribution to the sprinkler system was approved at “not to exceed” $50,000. 

“We believe relocating to this property will be a benefit to both the city and our business,” wrote Vertin-Larson in the project summary. The location and convenience on Pelican’s main thoroughfare would be an asset. 

Because of the generous size of the structure, Larson will carve out an impressive chapel area with more than 100 seating capacity—plus lobby and fellowship area. There is ample space for offices, reception area, storage, serving kitchen, and modern restroom facilities. 

Included in the plan is a city donation of part of the land parcel, which would allow for construction of a two-stall garage and hallway from the main building. 

Ownership of the upper level will be drafted by the attorneys, similar to a condominium situation. 

“The preliminary plans are drawn… we’re ready to move forward if we can come to terms,” said Smith.

Estimated price for the renovation and construction was not revealed, but based on city estimates from several years ago—pre-inflation—the funeral business investment in Pelican Rapids could easily hit $1 million. Especially with the added new construction of a two-stall garage and hallway. 

On the surface, the donation of the upper level may appear overly generous. But the council has had no viable plans, or outside interest, in the redevelopment of the top floor. In its completely unfinished condition, there has been little motivation for a private party to consider the cost of refurbishing the space. 

The funeral home improvements would add considerably to the commercial tax base in the city, noted Don Solga, city administrator. 

Under an agreement with the city of Pelican Rapids, Larson Funeral Home will relocate from its residential location to the upper level of Pelican City Hall, above.

Councilman Steve Strand, with tongue partially in cheek, suggested that the funeral home “take the whole building.” Strand had been one of the councilmembers most vocal in opposition to city investment in the building—which he believed was aging and impractical. In the past, he’s advocated for the city to build a new city hall. 

But reality set in for Councilman Steve Foster. 

When built in the early 1960s, as headquarters of the regional Lake Region Electric Cooperative, the building was a substantial addition to the community. Bell Bank later bought the building, leasing the lower level to Pelican city. Nearly ten years ago, the city purchased the building from Bell for about $200,000. 

The top floor was largely vacant and unused for more than a decade. 

An ambitious plan to redevelop the upper level as a community-event center and commercial kitchen was ultimately defeated by the city council. Exterior renovations were completed, along with the lower floor for city hall—but the top level has been an unimproved shell for about five years. 

Otter Tail County Commissioner Wayne Johnson, at the May 10 meeting on another matter, suggested that the city “trade” city hall’s top floor for the existing Larson facility. Johnson suggested that the present funeral home could help with Pelican and the county’s priority issue of developing more housing. 

Funeral home official Smith said that the financial plan is based on the present Larson facility to be sold, which would provide additional capital to invest in renovating the city hall upper level. 

Councilman Kevin Ballard made a motion to proceed with the purchase agreement. The motion passed unanimously. 

As far as timeline, Smith estimated about nine months, with construction at city hall spanning about six of those.