With plans in the works to redesign Brainerd’s Memorial Park, city council members allocated $1.3 million to the parks department for the project.

That budget, which the council approved during a meeting Monday, Dec. 2, includes $223,000 for the potential purchase of the parking lot at the park.

In October, Brainerd Industrial Center owner Mike Higgins owns the parking lot and previously offered to sell lot to the city for $300,000. At the time, Parks Director Tony Sailer said the parking lot could fit into the designs the park board was working on, or the plans could work without the parking lot, instead requiring visitors to park on the street.

Before acting on Higgins’ proposal, the council authorized an appraisal of the land. An appraisal from Bill Ludenia Appraisals shows the land’s value to be $67,500 if the residential zoning remains, or $223,000 if rezoned to commercial use.

The city of Brainerd has the option to purchase the parking lot at Memorial Park from owner Mike Higgins before the city's lease agreement on the property ends in 2021. Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch
The city of Brainerd has the option to purchase the parking lot at Memorial Park from owner Mike Higgins before the city's lease agreement on the property ends in 2021. Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

During the personnel and finance committee meeting before Monday’s council meeting, council member Dave Badeaux, liaison to the parks board, said he felt the $223,000 offer was fair.

“It’s more than what the property currently is (worth), but if someone was to want to make that a commercial property, that’s the value of it,” Badeaux said. “I don’t think that’s unreasonable.”

The council agreed to move forward with negotiations for the parking lot with Higgins, who was not present at Monday’s meeting. Because the offer will be the high end of what the appraisal brought forth, Badeaux said it will essentially be a “take it or leave it” offer.

“If he accepts, he accepts and that comes out of the total project. And if he declines, that money is available for the park,” Badeaux said. “There’s plenty of stuff here we could look at maybe reducing if we wanted to.”

The designs

The new configuration at Memorial Park will make up for the facilities lost when the city’s lease ends on Mill Avenue Park — also owned by Higgins — ends in March 2021.

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.

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.

With the initial cost estimate from Widseth Smith Nolting coming in at $1.38 million, Badeaux suggested allocating $1.3 million, as he believes everything that needs to be done can be done within that price, with or without purchasing the parking lot.

The new warming house is estimated at $450,000, though the one recently built in Gregory Park only cost about $280,000. Badeaux said it seemed silly to him to build a more expensive one for Memorial Park.

“If the one we just built isn’t good enough, then why did we build it?” he said. “If we like what we built, then let’s budget for what we built.”

Another item Badeaux said he brought up during meetings about the park design was a small structure near ballfield No. 3 to offer shade for kids while watching their parents play ball. The idea started off as a small $5,000 structure similar, Badeaux said, but eventually turned into a bigger pavilion of sorts estimated to cost $100,000.

“If that’s the case, let’s wait. We can do that in 3, 4, 5, years. We can put that into a capital improvement plan if we want to do something that large,” he said. “My thought on that was: We’ve got a small structure that’s got … two picnic tables in it, and that would suffice (for now).”

If the city ends up purchasing the parking lot from Higgins, the access road into the park from Q Street Northeast — estimated at $31,000 — would not be needed anymore.

The rest of the council agreed with Badeaux’s suggested project cap of $1.3 million and offer of $223,000 to Higgins for the parking lot. Council members will then allow the parks board to dictate how that money will be spent within the redesign.

At the request of council members Jan Lambert and Kelly Bevans, Badeaux said he would continue to update the council on the board’s design decisions.

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.

Funding and timeline

Finance Director Connie Hillman suggested the council add $117,000 to the city’s 2020 debt levy in order to bond for the project. That’s the amount the debt levy would have decreased from 2019 to 2020. Instead, the council could keep the debt levy the same, which would mean the overall 2020 levy would have to increase about 2% to keep a balanced budget.

The next step for the project is to discuss the purchase of the parking lot with Higgins. After that, Sailer said he’s not sure if the city will have to officially bid the project. Earlier this year, the parks board requested bids from engineers add a fourth softball field, a new concession stand and restroom building, new lights on three of the fields, a new scoreboard, new fencing and dugouts, new irrigation and electrical wiring, turf, two hockey rinks with lights and a new warming house. Three bids came in, ranging from $2.5 to $4.4 million, which both parks board and council members agreed was more than they wanted to spend.

The council then authorized $20,000 to WSN to complete the scope portion of the project, meaning better defining what exactly the city wanted to see at the park. Those designs garnered the $1.3 million estimate, though Sailer said he isn’t sure if the city will be required to go out for bids again using the new designs as an outline, or if WSN can be retained to complete the project.

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 to continue using both Mill Avenue Park and the parking lot at Memorial Park 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.

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa.