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Rochester council gives green light to accelerate $15 million in park spending

Plan calls for using half of annual $2 million parks levy to make annual payments on dedicate project list.

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Luis Santos, right, takes a shot while playing basketball with Raymundo Vargas and Adrian Dominguez on Monday, August 3, 2020, at Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park in Rochester.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin file photo
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ROCHESTER – A plan to borrow $15 million to accelerate city park and recreation improvement received unanimous support Wednesday.

“It is always difficult to create a list of projects,” Rochester City Council member Patrick Keane said of the proposed spending plan that includes $7 million for Soldiers Field Park and $4 million for Silver Lake Park.

Soldiers Field and Silver Lake parks are undergoing planning efforts, so specific spending is not outlined in the plan.

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However, the proposed project list includes a new expanded pool at Soldiers Field and a shift to a different type of aquatics feature at Silver Lake Park.

Deputy City Administrator Aaron Parrish said any related spending in the two parks, along with $700,000 in planned upgrades to the Silver Lake Station, would require council approval before moving forward.

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“You are being asked to approve a list of projects, however this is not the last stop,” he told the council.

The list of proposed projects has been tweaked following discussions between the council and the city’s Park Board, along with community engagement related to the proposed spending.

The effort shifted $1.2 million away from plans for a new Eastwood Golf Course clubhouse and parking lot improvements, as well as $75,000 for drainage work at Northern Hills Golf Course.

Under the approved plan, funding for tennis, pickleball and basketball courts was doubled to $750,000 and $900,000 was earmarked to replace and enhance playground equipment throughout the community.

Parrish said the change in projects largely reflected community input, as well as the intention stated in the parks referendum approved by voters in 2020, which provides $2 million a year through dedicated property taxes.

“We didn’t feel like we heard in the community feedback that golf was a priority,” he said.

Also included in the $15 million plan is:

  • $500,000 for a shelter, restroom and lighting at Martin Luther King Park.
  • $750,000 for locker rooms at the city’s Rec Center.
  • $100,000 for renovations to the tennis clubhouse at Kutzky Park.
  • $300,000 for McQuillan soccer fields.

The plan commits half of annual $2 million in dedicated levy funds to make annual payments on the $15 million debt, leaving $1 million for other projects each year.
City staff said the proposed annual spending doesn’t commit the entire levy and funds from the annual park budget will remain available as discussions continue regarding the future of the city’s golf program.

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“There is wiggle room in there right now,” City Administrator Alison Zelms said.

The next step for the council will likely be the approval of selling bonds required to access the $15 million for the projects.

Randy Petersen joined the Post Bulletin in 2014 and became the local government reporter in 2017. An Elkton native, he's worked for a variety of Midwest papers as reporter, photographer and editor since graduating from Winona State University in 1996. Readers can reach Randy at 507-285-7709 or rpetersen@postbulletin.com.
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