I was floored this morning when I fired up the Pioneer’s Facebook page and saw some 40 comments on my story about plans for the Masons building to be torn down, just since the story was posted last night. By comparison, most of the stories I do will get maybe three or four comments in a week.
I was also surprised at the amount of negative reactions to the building plans. A lot of people apparently didn’t read the story itself, since they seemed to think some sort of business or tacky parking lot is going into the space. Rather, that couldn’t be further from what Watermark Art Center actually wants to do with the land after the building comes down. As Watermark director Lori Forshee-Donnay said when I talked to her yesterday, the center aims to turn the plat into a garden where public art can be featured, possibly with some sort of pavilion for public gatherings. It’s a vast improvement over an empty, dilapidated building past that at this point can only suck up utility costs and pose a safety hazard.
We can only speculate as to the motivations of whoever donated the $250,000 for the Masons building to be purchased and demolished, but I have a theory: the person or organization donated the money precisely to save the space from becoming a parking lot or fast food chain location. They donated to Watermark specifically in order to prevent some other developer from coming in and turning the space into something commercial. They probably chose to remain anonymous because they anticipated the legion of haters suddenly throwing rocks at the idea of demo-ing the building just because it happens to be old. Where were all these people last spring, when news first broke of the temple’s condition?
Although it’s an ugly fact that the temple has to go away, it’s still a fact. The future green space is really the best possible outcome that could have happened, considering the amount of money it would have required to renovate the building.
The Masons are satisfied they did all they could to save the building. Why can’t some people in Bemidji be satisfied with a little change?