When Liberty Bank Minnesota outgrew its home and needed to build a new headquarters, leaders gave back to the community by donating the bank’s downtown building to a good cause.
By William Atkinson
Recently, Liberty Bank Minnesota in St. Cloud, Minn., opened a new headquarters outside of the central Minnesota city’s downtown. The two-story headquarters will expand the $214 million-asset community bank’s services and give it room for future expansion.
While the move is great for the bank, it’s also good for the community. Instead of selling its former headquarters, Liberty Bank Minnesota donated its former office complex to the nascent Great River Children’s Museum, a donation worth about $1.4 million. The 1930s-era building will become a new children’s museum that will serve the growing area.
Why didn’t the bank sell its previous headquarters? “Liberty is actually the oldest banking name in the community, and we wanted to maintain the legacy of that building,” says Mark Bragelman, president and CEO, adding that the existing building wasn’t able to accommodate the community bank’s office needs. “We could have sold it and had the new owner flatten it and build something else, or we could have had someone purchase it as a commercial piece of property and chop it up into parcels to lease. However, that wasn’t the legacy we wanted to leave downtown.”
The community bank rigorously studied the best option for the structure. Along the way, bank leadership came across a group of college professors and community members who were looking for a space for a new children’s museum. “One thing led to another, and we ended up feeling that it was just the right thing to do to donate the building to them,” Bragelman says.
Since the nonprofit Great River Children’s Museum didn’t have any funding at that point, the community bank went one step further: It also donated $56,880 to the nonprofit, equivalent to the first year of property taxes and insurance on the building. “The group is getting this project going, and they have been working extremely hard to get it up and running,” Bragelman says.
So far, the museum group has started a capital funding campaign, which is generating a lot of local support, Bragelman says. A state representative introduced a bill in 2019 that would help provide capital funding to support the museum’s development.
While Liberty Bank Minnesota’s goal wasn’t to generate publicity, the donation garnered praise from customers and local residents. Recently, Bragelman overheard a conversation where someone mentioned the community bank’s donation of the building. The other person responded, “Well, that’s Liberty.”
“That made me feel really good,” Bragelman says. “Doing things for the community has always been a part of what we have done, and people seem to realize that.”
New room to grow
While Liberty Bank Minnesota ended up moving only about one mile from its previous location, it has made all the difference in the world.
“We have grown a lot, so we needed more office space,” Bragelman says. “We also needed a different configuration of office space, since business is moving more toward electronic, which requires more back-end processing.”
The move has not only made it easier for customers to find Liberty Bank Minnesota and have access to convenient parking, but it’s also easier for staff to provide directions to existing and potential customers who are visiting the new building for the first time.
“The old space had significant parking issues, and we needed a lot more parking,” Bragelman says. “However, the thing I appreciate the most about our new location is the access. We are serving a wider and wider geography, and our new location has a lot of connectivity to major thoroughfares.”
A tribute to musical history
Its donation to the children’s museum aside, Liberty Bank Minnesota has also created a museum of its own in its new headquarters.
The community bank has held an annual block party for the past 32 years, spending approximately $1 million to put on large public concerts free of charge. It has attracted some well-known groups over the years, from Herman’s Hermits to Tanya Tucker and Grand Funk Railroad.
After decades of concerts, the bank ended up with closets full of memorabilia—clothing worn on stage, musical instruments and autographed items—stored in its old facility where virtually no one had access to them. “With the extra room we have in our new facility, we have created a community room where groups can have their meetings, but we have also turned it into a museum of sorts,” Bragelman says.
The walls are covered with all of the memorabilia that had once been in storage in the old headquarters.
“People love looking at all of these things,” he says. “We even have people just stop by the bank to go through that room and look at everything.”
William Atkinson is a writer in Illinois.