Photo by Robert Williams, contributed
Frazee Economic Development Consultant Karen Pifher (below) led a concerned group of Frazee residents that included CornerStone Director Mackenzie Hamm, former mayor and CornerStone board member Ken Miosek, City Administrator Stephanie Poegel  (above), among others, in creating a dialogue with the Becker County Board of Commissioners on potential future funding opportunities, along with the need for improved communications between members of organizations in Frazee and the county board during the latest commissioners’ meeting Tuesday, April 16, in Detroit Lakes.

By Robert Williams


Economic Development Consultant Karen Pifher and City Administrator Stephanie Poegel presented an update to the Becker County Board of Commissioners to discuss recent business momentum in Frazee at last week’s commissioner’s meeting in Detroit Lakes.

“More than anything, we’re just really excited about everything happening in Frazee,” said Pifher on Tuesday, April 16. “We have an incredible amount of momentum happening to make Frazee a regional destination for people.”

Pifher gave a recap of recent happenings in town and discussed the collective work of multiple groups in regards to the Frazee Forward program. 

Frazee Forward is creating a regional presence that focuses on outdoor recreation, family friendly neighborhoods, amenities and events and the well-being of youth.

Some of the projects discussed were Wannigan Regional Park, the upcoming Town Lake Beach development and greenspace and enhancements on Main Avenue. Other topics were the expansion of businesses in town, public art, CornerStone Community and Youth Center, the Lakes Area Yes Network coming in June, along with Fridays in Frazee throughout the summer.

“As a community, we know, at a minimum, we are investing over $17 million in the next 10 years in Frazee,” said Pifher. “We’re excited about all the things that will do and bring people to our community.”

FCDC Polly Andersen updated the board on more than $6 million in grant applications that have been applied for to build Wannigan Regional Park. Andersen explained upcoming upgrades to the park throughout Phase I of planning that includes income-providing camping and RV sites.

Andersen also requested a commissioner to join the Wannigan Park Committee prior to Pifher breaking down the $2,7 million in 2024 funding requests:

• $1.85 Million Capital Fund & Bonding Request for North River Loop Drive (road, water, sewer access to the park)

• TAP Grant (approved): $224,000 towards a trail from Cty 29 to Wannigan Park

• Outdoor Recreation: $350,000

• Active Transportation Grant: $650,000 towards trail system in the park

• Greater MN Parks and Trails: $1.4 million

• MN Historical Society: $35,000

• Total Requests: $2.712 million

• 2024 Fundraising Goal for Matching Funds: $400,000

Executive Director Mackenzie Hamm and board member Ken Miosek gave an update on CornerStone and the uptick in kids attending daily, along with outreach to other communities. Some of the impacts of the youth center that were shared include:

• 260+ youth are attending from Frazee, Perham, Detroit Lakes

• 30-50 youth attend daily after school

• Over 1,200 hours of community service logged in 2024 so far

• Partnership with the YES Network this summer of 2024

• Relationship with White Earth and F/M Indigenous Association (16 percent of youth are indigenous) to offer arts, events, activities, cultural education, language and outreach

• Outreach services to DL schools, Lake Park/Audubon in youth substance use prevention services

• Performing Arts stage is fully outfitted for small performances of music, plays, dance, comedy and more

• Replication of model in other communities (Pelican Rapids, Lanesboro)

The Yes Network is a non-profit program that has had a significant amount of success for the past 11 years working with children in underserved neighborhoods in the St. Cloud area. The DL chapter is led by Director Mike Labine.

Pifher went over the CornerStone budget, which included a completed capital campaign of $1.088 million, a projected annual budget of $540,000, along with a repeated request of $50,000 from the county.

“We are on target for budget this year,” said Pifher. “We have done a fantastic job between fundraising and grants to make this a successful model.”

Pifher acknowledged the difficulty the board has in deciding who and what to fund, but also presented the number of times Wannigan Park and CornerStone representatives have provided data and information to the board to garner support.

“We know that you don’t have an unlimited budget and you have to make hard decisions on what you do and don’t fund,” said Pifher. “This is a preventative model. If we can work well with our students and help improve their mental health, it reduces costs of substance use, mental health crises when they’re adults.”

Pifher reiterated multiple requests on what either entity could do to get some communication back from the county, acknowledging that there has been verbal support for both projects, but little else in terms of return communication on past presentations that have received little to no county-led feedback.

“We know you have a lot; we’re just very curious about what can we expect moving forward as far as how can we communicate better,” said Pifher. “If we have something in Frazee that we are looking at that might be of interest to the commissioners, what would you like us to do as far as approaching you about it?”

Poegel backed up Pifher’s polite, but poignant ask, of the commissioners.

“I have heard that the Becker County Commissioners have overwhelmingly said yes, we want to help; we want to be a part of it because you are a part of our county,” she said. “When we are counting on funds in Frazee because the county assures, whether its current or past board, has said we’re going to leverage funds for you we need to know when those funds would be available, at least a general guideline, like within a year, two years, five years, so we can continue to make progress toward our financial goals with our projects and our events.”

Board Chairman John Okeson noted the county has committed SMART funds (0.5 percent Transit Sales and Use Tax) but cannot release any of those funds until the road project to Wannigan Park is completed and submitted to the county engineer.

“I’ve had a lot of conversations with Jim Olson and we are still looking at participating in that,” said Okeson.

The county holds an annual meeting to approve and distribute SMART funds.

Commissioner Barry Nelson addressed funding options for CornerStone.

“We’re supportive, but I’m hesitant to offer any continual funding on that project,” Nelson said. “It might be possible to go through our Becker County Children’s Initiative or there’s another one that focuses on school-aged children. Those would be more specific for mental health and health of children for funding. Personally, I don’t want to get in the habit of just doling out general fund money for projects that come on.”

Hamm asked for specifics on why CornerStone doesn’t qualify, in comparison to the county museum, where both entities have some similar programs.

“Your request is honorable; it’s obviously a great cause for your community,” said Nelson. “To me, it has to come through with some benefits for, in this case, come through Human Services or Children’s Initiatives, someone with more expertise. I mean, we could have a line here asking for funds from every community and every non-profit. It would be never ending.”

Hamm was obviously frustrated with Nelson’s answer.

Miosek stepped in noting that there has been multiple submissions requested by the county since COVID for funding opportunities for CornerStone and with the Frazee non-profit complying each time no actual feedback from the county and no funding.

“If you don’t want to do it just let us know off the top rather than feeding us, feeding us that maybe you’ll get something and then, like the last meeting we were here, you said you were going to send it to your financial committee and ask them,” said Miosek. “We hear no communication and here we are again. Yes or no. We’re trying to develop a budget so we know whether or not we can get any money from the county or not. If we cannot, tell us no, we aren’t going to do anything for you and we’ll walk away.”

Nelson responded by specifying CornerStone should be working with the county’s Children’s Initiative. 

“We’ve been working with them,” said Pifher. “We just thought because of the statute that was shared with us that because we are a community center—we do provide support in several ways to community members. We have dry foods that we have provided to people who are not able to access the food pantry in Becker County all the time. We work with a lot of parents and kids who would be eligible under the statue that was shared.”

Pifher backed up Miosek’s request to get a tangible answer from the board either way.

“We’ve spent a lot of time communicating so we just need to know from the commissioners are we eligible or not and if it’s a no, then we’ll know?,” Pifher said.

Commissioner Erica Jepson discussed a family relation of hers that goes to CornerStone and the positive benefits that has had on that family member. 

“There are lots of good things going on there,” she said.

Jepson also backed up Nelson’s point.

“We can’t fund every youth center, everything that comes forward that is good for the county,” Jepson said.

Jepson offered to be part of the board of CornerStone to try to improve the line of communication between the youth center and the board.

Hamm made an emotional plea discussing how good it would be for the county to make an investment in CornerStone, after complimenting all the great things that are supported by the county in Detroit Lakes.

“I would love for the community members in our county to see, yep, we are always going into DL because it’s a great city,” Hamm said. “We go there for our jobs or to shop, but Frazee is now starting to boom and we want to see people go, look at what Frazee has to offer. We want to be able to support that for the kids and for the businesses that are coming in.”

Nelson clarified how the county does not support the Boys and Girls Club or the DLCCC, but does support the museum because it is a county building and project. Nelson also stated he appreciated the passion with which the speakers spoke on behalf of Frazee.

“Where do you give money? Where do you not? It’s difficult,” Nelson said.

The board did pass a resolution to have Jepson join the board at CornerStone to help create a better stream of communication.