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Audience has range of questions on proposal for Hancock's downtown

A proposed childcare/event center and three offices for empty lots in Hancock's downtown would need 108 children enrolled to be profitable, said Gloria Zeltwanger, one of the organizers of a Feb. 19 informational meeting about the proposed project.

The area needs childcare and research about the childcare need in the area shows that 108 children need childcare, said Jen Boon, one of the project's organizers. "Hancock has the highest percentage of kids in that 108 kids at 45 percent," she said.

While organizers of the proposed project told a crowd of at least 50 people the project will fill a need for childcare, the project will also fill a need for a larger event center, it will also help rejuvenate Hancock's downtown.

The proposed childcare/event center and office project would be located in empty lots in the downtown. Organizers said it would be a for-profit venture. Those lots are now earmarked for a housing project proposed by Midwest Minnesota Community Development Corporation, the parent of Community Development Bank in Hancock. MMCDC is receiving bids on the project. Construction is expected to start as soon as weather conditions allow, said Justin Cronen of Community Development Bank.

Any of the two projects would need to be completed by Dec. 31 in order for Stevens County to meet a requirement of a grant used to demolish buildings on the lots, said county coordinator Becky Young.

Organizers of the childcare/event center and office project said while MMCDC's housing project is a good idea, they have a better idea, if the community supports is.

Zeltwanger said the meeting show support for the childcare/event center idea. The group will continue to work on the project, organizers said.

The roughly one hour meeting included an explanation of the project and questions from the audience.

Questions about the childcare center included the plan for after school programs, if there is available staff, how the group intends to make the childcare center financially successful.

Robyn Denye has been working with the project organizers. She is the former director of a childcare center in Benson.

A childcare center must include a summer school-aged program which helps offsets the high costs of infant and toddler program, Denye said.

Denye said the Legislature also recognizes the need for more childcare in the state. She said it's likely the Legislature will pass a bill this year that changes licensing for daycare teachers that would provide more teachers including the possibility of hiring students who have completed two years of college at the University of Minnesota Morris.

Childcare rates at the proposed center would be similar to those in Morris and neighboring towns, organizers said.

The proposed event center would also house some childcare programming, said John Boon, a project organizer. The dimensions as of Feb. 19 were 98 by 70-foot which is large enough to house some sporting events, John Boon said.

The event center would fill the need for a larger gathering space in the community, he said

"You can tell by the crowd here tonight (in the existing community center)," John Boon said. "If we had a bigger crowd, we'd be standing room only."

The childcare/event center would also have a commercial kitchen.

Organizers were asked if the kitchen could be rented to users who may can vegetables to sell at a farmer's market.

That is exactly one of the possible uses, organizers said.

When asked how the proposed project would fight the trend of less demand for office space in the region, organizers said they've had at least two inquiries about using the proposed space.

"The town is growing and we need to have space to allow it grow," said Troy Scott, one of the project's organizers.

There are other groups working to revitalize their small towns, such as group that was successful in Battle Lake, Jen Boon said.

But Hancock is not Battle Lake, which has a big lake and tourism, an audience member said. Battle Lake's downtown is also very quiet in the off season, the audience member said.

Jen Boon said it will take a lot of work to revitalilze Hancock's downtown and the childcare/event center is one way to make a difference. To read more about the meeting, click this link:https://www.stevenscountytimes.com/news/4578104-sharing-idea-downtown-ha...

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