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Editorial: Seek center successor

Ground was broken early this year in Hammond for a new Army Reserve Center to be built for soldiers of the 652nd Engineer Company. The new center is set to open in 2010.

The new facility will replace a center that's been in Ellsworth for over 50 years. Its relocation is a loss for the local community, especially when it comes to the revenue it generated and the assistance it provided here.

The new $7 million center will include a 100-member training facility equipped with a physical fitness area, weapons simulator, library, a maintenance shop and more. The training center is approximately 26,000 square feet, with an additional 643 square feet allocated for a storage building.

This area's residents can be proud the replacement is to be memorialized in honor of the late Specialist Bert E. Hoyer, 23, of Ellsworth and the late Sgt. 1st Class Dan H. Gabrielson, 39, Spooner, both killed fighting the war in Iraq. Both were assigned to the 652nd in Ellsworth.

Village officials tried to keep the center in this vicinity. The Reservists had looked for a new site for at least the last three years. There was an attempt to have a corporation buy a location near Pierce Pepin Cooperative Services headquarters west of town and lease it to the Reserves. Unfortunately, the plan stalled in Washington, D.C., because of budgetary issues.

Instead, the new facility is going up just west of St. Croix Electric's home base. One reason for the choice of Hammond is believed to be the place is closer to I-94, access to which is important in moving troops, machinery and military vehicles.

So a gap in Ellsworth's midway district could materialize next year. But that sad reality might be avoided if the same effort shown in trying to persuade the Reserve to stay is applied to finding a successor. The local American Legion Post, which owns and has leased the property along Main Street, should be pursuing a new tenant now. Government leaders should be tapping economic development resources about the possibilities.

A downturned economy won't make the pursuit any easier. Yet, the availability has some advantages going for it: being situated along a main east-west highway, proximity to business districts and a unique past purpose that could attract a special type of interest unable to get similar quarters most anywhere else.

The prospects are intriguing and worth considering.