Kudos — or should I say orchids (old school style) — to the Hibbing City Council for approving the purchase of four properties west of the Memorial Building for potential future expansion of that facility.

The council voted 5-2 Wednesday to buy the properties using $470,000 from a dedicated fund set up years ago for just such purposes — buying property. The money in the fund got there from the city selling assets.

Voting yes were councilors John Schweiberger (who made the motion), James Bayliss (who seconded it), Jay Hildenbrand, Tim Harkonen and Justin Fosso.

Mayor Rick Cannata and Councilor Jennifer Hoffman Saccoman both voted no and during discussion both brought up the need for further research and the potential for unseen costs related to the property purchases in the future.

Legitimate concerns for sure, but also issues that have been discussed a number of times up to this point.

Buying four of the eight properties to the west of the building now is a significant step in the right direction in a — so far — mostly planning process that has been ongoing for a number of years in Hibbing. 

The proposed project, which could potentially double the size of the current facility and could also carry a price tag of up to $40 million, has been in “concept” form since 2015, when the then city council advertised for design proposals.

Six years later — and two or three years removed from an economic impact study done by the Blandin Community Leadership Hibbing/Chisholm Cohort — the wheels of progress are slowly starting to turn.

The fact is nothing can happen without securing the real estate necessary to expand. Four down and four to go. City officials say they have commitments to sell from the other four property owners on the block in hand and that the owners of the four properties discussed Wednesday wanted to sell before the end of the year.

Some have questioned the amount the city is paying for the properties but the reality is that the owners hold all the cards in this type of situation. They don’t have to sell. But the city can’t do anything unless they do.

So the idea of fair market value goes out the window. All it takes is for one property owner to say they aren’t selling and the project is done. Best to strike while the iron is hot, especially when you consider what a relatively small investment of $470,000 is in a potential $40 million project.

Particularly a project that could be such a great win for the City of Hibbing and its residents.

If it all becomes reality, Hibbing could have a building twice the size of what it has now and a true centerpiece to the community. 

With the possible addition of recreation areas for various sports, including a second sheet of ice, multi-purpose athletic courts, convention space, and nearly a mile and a half of indoor walking space, it could be a beautifully designed facility dedicated to the health and wellness of Hibbing residents, offering recreational and social opportunities to all who live there.

And it would carry on the spirit of the Memorial Building, which was built in 1934, with the same general goal in mind — to bring together the community.

Back then, city officials and residents planned, designed and eventually built what (for it’s time) was a state-of-the-art facility complete with all the offerings and amenities a city could possibly need.

What’s really amazing — and what Hibbing residents should be proud of — is the Memorial Building is not only still standing and still used consistently, but it is also in immaculate condition.

I had the opportunity to take a tour of the building this past week and while I was familiar with much of it, having lived in the area all my life, I was nevertheless impressed with the design, layout, and overall functionality of the building.

It’s not only home to a fantastic ice arena (where years ago I watched Rock and Roll Buck Zumhofe wrestling in an AWA ring), it’s also filled with rooms designed with community in mind: From senior citizen gathering spots, to a small stage and auditorium where Bob Dylan once performed, to a full-size curling club, a veterans room (and side room complete with original bar where the vets used to gather in the old days), a boxing area, a kitchen, a banquet hall, and even a museum dedicated to the history of Hibbing.

They just don’t make places like the Memorial Building anymore and the fact Hibbing city officials and council members understand that and want to maintain that history — that memorial to a different time — while looking for a way to bring the whole thing into the 21st Century is awesome.

Of course, the move to purchase the properties didn’t go unnoticed by the public (which it shouldn’t) and a handful of vocal citizens took to social media to show their displeasure with the idea — many of whom were either grossly uneducated on the topic or were just looking to complain about something.

Unfortunately, that seems to be the ugly trend these days — instant negatively and going off armed with little but an opinion and an attitude.

Onions to those that constantly complain.

Complaining on social media about everything at every turn is unhealthy.

Instead of instantly hating the idea of a bigger and better Memorial Building, take a second to think of the benefits — economic, mental, and physical.

Instead of complaining, fighting and tearing apart your neighbors over the proposal, maybe a more positive use of time would be to recognize progress bearing down the tracks.

Instead of trying to lay on the tracks to block it, hop aboard the train and help guide it to a place that works for all.

Come together as a community.

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