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Journal building to be new police station

Forum Communications Company, parent company of RiverTown Multimedia, has signed a purchase agreement for the RiverTown Multimedia building at 2815 Prairie Drive. The agreement was unanimously approved at Tuesday night's City Council meeting. Though the building is set to be sold, Publisher Neal Ronquist said the company is committed to maintaining a presence in the local communities currently served by that building. Gretta Stark / RiverTown Multimedia.

The River Falls Police Department has found a new future location. During its Tuesday, Oct. 23 regular meeting the River Falls City Council unanimously approved a purchase agreement with Forum Communications Company (FCC), which owns RiverTown Multimedia, including the River Falls Journal.

FCC signed an agreement with City Administrator Scot Simpson to sell the River Falls Journal / RiverTown Multimedia building at 2815 Prairie Drive to the city for a future police department location. The City Council approved that agreement unanimously Tuesday night.

"Forum Communications Company is pleased to come to an agreement with the city of River Falls to sell the River Falls Journal building to the city," said Neal Ronquist, Group Publisher for RiverTown Multimedia and Group Publisher for the Duluth Media Group. "The city of River Falls has been a great partner to work with on this transaction."

The need

Simpson said the city has been assessing space needs for its emergency services. He said the city planned to find new space for the police department first.

"Essentially the building's outlasted it's useful life," he said of the current police station,"and it's time for us to move on."

Simpson said consultants recommended the police department have at least 25,000 square feet of space in the future to meet its needs. But, he said, building a new police building that would meet the consultants' recommendations would cost between $9 million and $13 million. The city was able to budget about $7.5 million for a new facility, with the hope to begin work in 2022 on a new building, if that had been the route chosen, then opening in the latter part of 2023.

The benefits

"We knew if we built a new building we were going to have to sacrifice on space considerably," Simpson said.

The Journal building will cost about $1.5 million. Renovations of the building will bring that total to an estimated $3.5 to $4.5 million, and will also allow the city to "almost entirely match" the space needs recommended by the consultants, Simpson said.

Simpson said the cost savings is "tremendous," especially when one considers the interest that will be saved over the 20-year-terms of the debt service—like a mortgage or loan the city will use to pay for the building and its renovations.

It will also allow the police department to occupy its new space sooner than fall of 2023, Simpson said.

The 2815 Prairie Drive building was a good fit in other ways too, Simpson said.

The Journal building contains mixed office and warehouse/garage space, which is what the city needs in a police building, Simpson said. The building's location also offers the city ample opportunity for expansion in the future.

Police Chief Gordon Young told Council Member Chris Gagne he had visited the building and believed it would "more than adequately serve" the community for years to come.

"I expect this facility to last for decades," said Young.

Simpson said that due to the community policing model employed by the RFPD, with officers on patrol in the community, moving the police station from downtown to Whitetail Ridge should not affect officer response time.

What's next

Simpson said the city and FCC will close on the building in about 90 days, most likely in early January. However, it is unlikely that the police department will occupy the space for at least 24 months, Simpson said.

The Journal announced the opening of the then-new building at 2815 Prairie Drive in the Oct. 14, 2004 Journal. The building currently houses River Falls Journal, Hudson Star-Observer, New Richmond News and Pierce County Herald staff.

While FCC and RiverTown Multimedia Group are selling the building, Ronquist said, the papers will maintain their presence in the River Falls, Hudson, New Richmond and Pierce County areas.

"The River Falls Journal, RiverTown Multimedia Group and Forum Communications remain committed to providing the residents of River Falls, and the surrounding area, with excellent products both in print and online," Ronquist said, "including the River Falls Journal, the River Falls Journal Express and our specialty publications.

"The newspaper industry continues to evolve and the reality is we no longer need large physical spaces for equipment and people. Technology affords our staff the ability to work remotely, and text, email and other forms of communication allow us to maintain strong customer relationships.

"Generating great content about the people, businesses and organizations of the River Falls area remains our focus and mission. We will continue to produce and deliver our products to your doorsteps, or mailboxes, as well as continue to fulfill our civic obligation to give back to the community."

Gretta Stark

Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.

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