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Ottertail's sturdy brick creamery to be revived

The stately Ottertail creamery.1 / 2
Pictured is the south side of the Ottertail creamery.2 / 2

Several new retail shops, a concert hall, a coffee shop, and studio apartments are all in the plans for Ottertail's historic creamery building.

The building, which was purchased in April of 2006 by the Ottertail-based Firestarters Ministries, is now in the first stages of construction. At the September 18 city council meeting, Pastor Pete Thiel shared his vision for the structure with the council.

"I see this building as a real asset to the community," Thiel said to the council. He brought up the possibility of teaming up with the New York Mills Cultural Center to bring musicians into the proposed concert hall, scheduled to be built just south of the existing creamery building.

The old Ottertail creamery, built in 1921, has housed a variety of local businesses throughout its decades in the community. Prior to being purchased by the ministry, the building stood vacant for several years. Without proper upkeep, the building had literally started falling to pieces by the time the ministry purchased the property.

Although the building has been through the hands of several owners, it has remained a historical icon in the small city. Located at the corner of Main Street (Highway 108) and Maple Street, the brick building serves as a welcoming landmark in the old portion of Ottertail city.

At the Sept. 18 council meeting, Thiel requested a zoning permit for demolition of a portion of the creamery building, shoring up the east wall, and adding a roof. Thiel expressed a desire to get a roof on the existing building before winter, in an attempt to prevent further damage to the current open-roofed structure.

According to Ottertail city coordinator Lee Sherman, any change of the footprint on a commercial building requires a permit. After Thiel detailed his plans for the council, he received tenative approval to begin the demolition, re-roofing process.

However, before the project progresses any further, the council requested to see blueprints stating the exact dimensions of the building and the surrounding lots. The creamery building itself sits on three city lots. Firestarters Ministries has also purchased an additional three lots which surround the building--one to the west, and two to the east between the creamery and the post office.

Thiel said that the ministry's plan is to build a 2,500 to 3,000 square foot building to the south of the creamery building, between the creamery and the alley. The alley runs east to west, and is located on the north side of the city's community center.

The new building Thiel is planning to build will house the proposed concert hall. Although the new building would initially be entirely separate from the existing creamery building on the property, the idea would be to eventually connect the two structures.

"At this point, we would just like to get a building permit so we can work on the building," Thiel reported.

Before he was approved to begin the demolition and re-roofing process, Thiel presented the council with two options for a new sewer system for the creamery and concert hall buildings. Thiel said the existing sewer system on the property was discovered not to be functional for the building's future needs.

One of the main factors in determining the appropriate size of the sewer system was first deciding how many apartments would be included in the structure. In speaking with a septic representative, Thiel said he figured on five apartments to be located in the upper level of the creamery.

Councilman Jeff Spanswick questioned Thiel about where he planned on making room for people to park. He also expressed a concern about snow drifting into the alley behind the proposed concert hall and fire trucks having difficulty making the turn from the alley onto the road. Spanswick suggested that a representative of the fire department make a run through the alley with a fire truck to make sure it fits.

The council's approval for the beginning of the construction/remodeling process was approved with a few contingencies. One of the council's contingencies was that Sherman first check the setbacks on the property to make sure building plans are all consistent with city ordinances. An actual scale drawing will also need to be drawn up before further construction plans will be approved.

"If we can work together and cooperate to get this done, that would be great," Thiel said to the council.

"We applaud what you're doing, Pete," responded councilman Don Patrick. "It's certainly a great concept."