BY GABE LICHT
DELANO, MN “SOLD
To all of us . . .
That’s the message taped on top of a “FOR SALE” sign in the window of 221 Second St. N., which was home to Ditty Plumbing for many years and, more recently, South Fork Brewing Company.
But, who exactly does “all of us” refer to?
Technically speaking, 16 investors purchased the building, while more than 40 supporters have pledged to contribute financially to cover operating costs for a year, with goals to grow that number to 80.
“All of us” could also refer to the community as a whole, who are invited to use the space in a variety of ways that are still being defined.
“I would characterize it as a community space,” said Gina Coburn, who is a part of the project.
She wants people to know the background of the plans, possible uses for the building, and uses that are not being considered.
“There are a million rumors flying around,” Coburn said. “It’s best if they know the whole story so they don’t have to guess. A bunch of it we don’t know. Not having answers is tricky.”
The story started at The Three Crows Café and Coffee House, which Coburn owned and operated in downtown Delano for a number of years.
“After we closed, there was a group of people who were regulars and really appreciated that (community) aspect of it,” Coburn said. “They kind of became homeless, but kept in touch.”
They did so via email and planned get-togethers.
During the winter months, the group started discussing the idea of opening a community space, and started surveying their options. They settled on the 7,200-square-foot facility across from Delano City Hall.
“We found this one and decided to go for it,” Coburn said. “There is so much potential. It is big and has a lot of spaces . . . There are a lot of ideas and possibilities of what could happen.”
Before finalizing the purchase, the group not only had to secure financing for the initial purchase, but also funds to operate it.
“Before we closed on it, we knew we had enough people to make it a year,” Coburn said.
Those individuals have not only pledged financial support, but many of them are providing input to shape what will be happening there.
They come from a variety of backgrounds, with knowledge of construction, technology, food service and preparation, farming, bookkeeping, art, sewing, meditation, and more.
“We have all these talents we don’t always get to utilize in our daily lives,” Coburn said.
In an attempt to do so, the group has organized into working circles, to do things like maintain the building and keep track of the membership of supporters, and several interest circles, each fleshing out possible uses for the building.
There is an interest circle for those interested in using the space to display, create, and teach others to create art.
Others are interested in using the space for music. They are hitting the ground running, hosting music jams 6-8 p.m. the first Thursday of each month and 10 a.m.-noon the third Saturday of each month, starting in May.
“There are other venues in town,” Coburn said. “There can always be more places to gather to play music . . . It could also be a practice space.”
All sorts of classes could be offered, with individuals interested in teaching everything from dancing and yoga to art and cooking.
It could also be used for organized events such as dinners or music events, or rented out for other events.
Garages in the back of the building could be rented out for workshop space for people wanting to put projects together.
The building could also be used as a co-working space where business people could work together.
There are people interested in building a commercial kitchen to be used by farmers or to create a food hub. That kitchen will be used for specific purposes, with no plans to sell coffee or food.
“It won’t be a restaurant or coffee shop,” Coburn said. “The kitchen will be more for preparation. The city is building one (in the Central Park concession building). It is more seasonal and has defined uses. We’re really trying to make local food more accessible, and use what we have.”
While there are a lot of ideas, Coburn acknowledged, “Not all the ideas are going to fit. It’s like a puzzle. Some things won’t work. Some things will fit in nicely . . . We’ll try things out, then tweak them with feedback. We’re learning by doing.”
They are using the sociocracy, or dynamic governance, model to make decisions by consent. This is a contrast against having a few people doing all the work or making decisions, or even a democracy with a simple majority making decisions.
“After running a business myself, and knowing what’s involved in it, I’m looking for something where the work can be shared so the load is light and no one gets burned out,” Coburn said.
An exact business model for operating the building is yet to be determined.
“It could be a nonprofit,” Coburn said. “There could be a business in there. It’s currently owned by two LLCs. It could house a group of businesses with a community space.”
It is set up in a way that lends itself to a variety of arrangements.
“There’s a great art space,” Coburn said. “The front room is a public space. There are offices. Where the brewery was is the potential kitchen space. Kitchens are a lot of work and money. We have to be clear about what it would be used for and if it could be utilized.”
Coburn said it’s very possible and likely for community groups and service organizations to meet there.
“To do improvements and make it sustainable, there will probably be fees, but we want to keep them reasonable,” Coburn said. “Nobody is in this to make money. The overall thing for the building is not that it be a money-making property. The proposition is to serve the community and be fun.”
All ages will be invited to have fun there.
“We really want this to be intergenerational,” Coburn said. “We want to integrate them into the world without necessarily having them separated into age groups.”
Organizers hope to draw more people downtown.
“I really want to see the downtown thrive,” Coburn said. “The more things going on down there, the better. We’re not wanting to take away from other businesses, but to get more traffic downtown, which will benefit everyone.”
While Coburn acknowledges that creating a community space is an experiment, she is encouraged by what has happened thus far, with an eye to the future in an area that is open to something new.
“It’s really fun to see this starting to take root, and for people to be willing to work on it and start to see what’s available,” Coburn said. “Delano is fertile ground for it, I think.”
The first event will be a gathering and screening of the film “Walk With Me” at 7 p.m. Tuesday. The film, narrated by Benedict Cumberbatch, follows Zen Buddhist Master Thich Nhat Hahn over a period of three years with unprecedented access.
Individuals interested in mindfulness are especially encouraged to attend. A good-will offering of $5 to $10 is encouraged.