Brainerd council to buy Memorial Park parking lot

As designs come together for a revamped version of northeast Brainerd’s Memorial Park, the plans are changing slightly, as the city agreed to terms to purchase the park’s existing parking lot Tuesday, April 7.

Come March 2021, the city will no longer have access to Mill Avenue Park, owned by Mike Higgins of Brainerd Land LLC. To recoup the facility losses, the city plans to invest about $1.3 million into nearby Memorial Park for a redesign.

Brainerd Land also owns the parking lot at Memorial Park. Until now, the city was unsure if it would be able to keep using the parking lot, or if new designs would have to include parking.

Higgins offered to sell the lot to the city in October for $300,000, estimating a new lot of the same size to cost anywhere between $425,000-$500,000. But an appraisal later valued the land at $67,500 if its residential rezoning remains, or $223,000 if rezoned to commercial use. The council agreed to offer $223,000 for the parking lot, noting that’s more than its current worth but still a fair price if someone were to turn it into a commercial parking lot.

The council signed the purchase agreement during a special meeting Tuesday, on a vote of 5-1, with Council President Gabe Johnson opposed.


In a phone interview after the meeting, Johnson said he thinks acquiring the park is a good thing but had a few questions and concerns with how the process took place and limited involvement from the parks board. Though buying a piece of property is up to the council, Johnson said he would have liked to know for sure how the parks board felt on the issue.

When asked about the issue Wednesday, April 8, Parks Director Tony Sailer said in a phone interview the parks board knew about the possibility of acquiring the parking lot but never took a stance on it one way or another. The designs drawn up by Widseth (formerly Widseth Smith Nolting) could have worked either with or without the parking lot, Sailer said.

“In the long run, I think the parks board likes the idea — and so do I — that we are going to obtain the parking lot because that just makes it one big park,” Sailer said. “And it’s really going to help with the parking situation because the softball players are used to parking right next to the ball fields and things like that.”

The price of the lot will come out of the $1.3 million the council already agreed to bond for the project. Sailer hopes that price will be offset by a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Outdoor Recreation grant. The city recently applied for $248,000 in DNR grant dollars, of which it could receive all, some or none. Sailer, though, said he feels pretty confident Memorial Park is something the DNR will want to invest in after talking with a spokesperson.

In the agreement

Under the purchase agreement, the city must deposit $10,000 with a title company within 14 days of signing the agreement. When the sale officially closes — no later than June 1 — that $10,000 will go to Brainerd Land LLC, along with the rest of the $223,000.

Also included in the agreement is the contingency that the city will be able to continue using Mill Avenue Park through March 1, 2021, which will allow use of the ice rinks through next winter.

The previous lease agreement for Mill Avenue 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. Higgins assumed that agreement when he bought the property later in 2014. The city reached a new two-year lease agreement with Higgins in January 2019, but Higgins said he would not renew the lease after that.

Park designs

New amenities proposed for Memorial Park include two hockey rinks to double as pickleball courts in the summer, a pleasure ice 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.


“I think in the long run people are going to be just overjoyed with how beautiful that park has been developed,” Sailer said. “And it’s so heavily used right now with adult softball, the Mills Stadium. It’s going to be something that’s really going to help make northeast Brainerd shine.”

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at .
Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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