State Destination Medical Center funds will cover nearly half of $21 million Soldiers Field Park renovations

DMC Corp. board approves full use of $10 million previously set aside for upgrades in city park.

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An alternative concept design for a new Soldiers Field aquatics park would move the location of a planned shelter and nature play area to avoid golf course changes. The concepts will be reviewed by the Rochester Park Board Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023.
Contributed / City of Rochester

ROCHESTER — A full $10 million in state funds have been approved for a potential $21 million in Soldiers Field Park upgrades, which include the creation of a new aquatic park .

“This is a smart $10 million investment by the state of Minnesota,” said R.T. Rybak, a member of the Destination Medical Center Corp. board.

The state DMCC board unanimously approved the full funding Thursday morning. The funds were previously tentatively approved as a community workgroup continued to discuss designs of the aquatic center.

On Thursday, DMCC board members cited full support for the unique potential for the park upgrades.

“This is an aquatic center, but so much more for the community,” DMCC Board Chairwoman Pamela Wheelock said.


Wheelock, the former interim president of The McKnight Foundation, said the added park upgrades, including a trail connection to the south, new play areas on the east and west sides of the park and work on riverfront connections, will help highlight other work being done within the DMC district.

“I just really love the idea of thinking of this as a reciprocal relationship about taking a jewel in this community, that is so valued, and increasing the usefulness of that space to a broader section of Rochester residents, but also getting them to the doorstep and maybe even luring them to explore other aspects of our zone and to understand downtowns do have a lot of amenities and assets that create enjoyment and value for everyday life,” she said.

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The planned renovations for Soldiers Field Park were presented to the Destination Medical Center Corp. board on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023, in a request to support approval of using $10 million in state DMC funds to support the planned changes.
Destination Medical Center Economic Development Agency

Olmsted County Commissioner Mark Thein, who represents the county on the DMCC board, said that’s important for the community, where many residents have considered the DMC initiative as something that is “done to them, instead of for them.”

He said this is a project that directly benefits community members throughout the city.

“This is an example where DMC is doing something for them,” he said.

The $10 million in state DMC funds will join $7 million from the local parks tax referendum, $5 million in federal grant funding and another $250,000 in state grant funding.

Mike Nigbur, Rochester’s parks and forestry division head, said plans call to construct the aquatic center this year, but timing will rely on conditions related to the federal funding.

The aquatic center makes up the largest expense — $12 million — for the park renovations.


Other estimated expenses include $850,000 for east park improvements, $750,000 for downtown riverwalk upgrades, $600,000 for a new shelter and nature play area on the west side of the park, $500,000 for a southwest trail extension, $200,000 for parking and track improvements and $150,000 for basketball courts.

An additional $5 million is earmarked to cover design costs, permits and fees, as well as contingency funding.

On Tuesday, the Rochester Park Board approved spending up to $600,000 to hire Kraus Anderson to support park staff as a representative overseeing many aspects of the planned work, from continued design efforts to construction.

In addition to approving the park funding Thursday morning, the DMCC board:

  • Approved spending $450,000 in state DMC fund for Rochester to purchase the Olmsted County share of the former Mr. Muffler building , which is jointly owned by the city and county. The site is planned as part of future development along and near the Zumbro River.
  • Approved spending up to $350,000 in state DMC funds for design and engineering work related to plans to develop approximately 5 acres of city-owned land along the Zumbro River. 
  • Approved the annual DMC report to the Minnesota Legislature .
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
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