Designs for a variety of new amenities at Memorial Park are complete, but the council won’t make any final decisions until an appraisal on the parking lot comes back.

The new configuration will make up for the facilities lost when the city’s lease with Mill Avenue Park owner Mike Higgins -- who also owns the parking lot at Memorial Park -- ends in March 2021. The lease covers both Mill Avenue Park and the parking lot at Memorial Park.

Parks and Recreation Director Tony Sailer and Joe Dubel of Widseth Smith Nolting, presented designs to the city council Monday, Oct. 21, for a redesigned Memorial Park.

New amenities in the designs include two hockey rinks to double as pickleball courts in the summer, a pleasure rink, a four-season warming house, a playground, horseshoe pits, a picnic shelter and two bituminous walking/biking paths, along with upgrades to the softball field lights and concessions area.

Two hockey rinks doubling at pickleball courts in the summer are part of the proposed upgrades to Memorial Park in northeast Brainerd. Rendering courtesy of Widseth Smith Nolting and the city of Brainerd.
Two hockey rinks doubling at pickleball courts in the summer are part of the proposed upgrades to Memorial Park in northeast Brainerd. Rendering courtesy of Widseth Smith Nolting and the city of Brainerd.

A future 67-space parking lot near Q Street is a possibility as well, though for the time being, visitors would have to park on the street. The city also has the option to buy the current parking lot at Memorial Park from Higgins, who approached the council earlier this month a proposal to sell the parking lot for $300,000. Council members expressed interest in the proposal but agreed to get an appraisal done first. The city has retained a firm to do the appraisal, which will be complete in about a month.

If the city opts not to buy the parking lot, Council President Gabe Johnson said he believes the “future” proposed lot would need to be included in the redesign right away instead of relying on street parking.

The new park designs do not include any new softball fields initially, as Sailer said he believes the three fields at Memorial Park will suffice for now. In the future, though, there would be space for a fourth field if needed.

“We felt that the nuts and bolts of what we need at this time is hockey rinks and a warming house,” Sailer said.

New playground equipment is included in proposed designs to upgrade Memorial Park in northeast Brainerd in the coming years. Rendering courtesy of Widseth Smith Nolting and the city of Brainerd.
New playground equipment is included in proposed designs to upgrade Memorial Park in northeast Brainerd in the coming years. Rendering courtesy of Widseth Smith Nolting and the city of Brainerd.

Cost and funding

The estimated cost of all the updates -- not including the 67 parking spots and fourth softball field -- is $1,383,000.

Finance Director Connie Hillman said, after speaking with the city’s municipal advisers, the city would likely have to issue general obligation tax abatement bonds for the expense. Both the park updates and the purchase of the parking lot -- if the council chooses to do that -- could be bonded together, Hillman said.

The council directed the personnel and finance committee to continue discussions with bond counsel to fine-tune the financial aspects.

Background

The previous lease agreement for Mill Avenue Park and the parking lot at Memorial Park dates back to 1989, with the most recent five-year agreement entered into with the previous owner of the former paper mill, Wausau Paper, and signed in January 2014. That agreement, which Higgins assumed when he bought the property now home to Brainerd Industrial Center in 2014, ended Jan. 20, 2019.

In January, the city reached a new two-year lease agreement with Higgins, who also owns the parking lot at Memorial Park, to continue using both facilities until 2021.

The 8-acre Mill Avenue Park has one adult and one youth softball field, two hockey rinks and a warming house, all of which the city will lose access to when the new lease agreement expires, along with the parking lot at Memorial Park.

In August, the parks board enlisted Widseth Smith Nolting to do a scope assessment to figure out exactly what the city wants to see in the designs for an upgraded Memorial Park.