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Brainerd City Council: City to apply for Three Bridges Trail state funding

Mayor Ed Menk (left) chuckles at the antics of council member Kelly Bevans, while council members Janice Lambert and Dave Badeaux look on during Tuesday's council meeting. Gabriel Lagarde / Brainerd Dispatch 1 / 2
A map detailing the roughly 2-mile stretch of the Mississippi River staked out for the project. Text boxes and dotted lines shows a number of the proposed developments that may be undertaken by the city of Brainerd and its fellow backers. Click image to see entire graphic. Map screenshot / Brainerd Housing and Redevelopment Authority2 / 2

The Brainerd City Council voted to authorize the necessary steps to apply for a grant for its Three Bridges Trail project, though not without voiced reservations.

A debated resolution, in which Brainerd pledges to be a sponsoring agency behind the project, passed 5-2. The second, in which the city promises to maintain the future facilities, passed unanimously.

The grant—funded by the Federal Transportation Alternative Program—could cover 80 percent of construction costs for awarded projects. The city of Brainerd is looking to utilize those funds in the construction portion of its proposed Three Bridges Trail, a 2,200-meter elevated, pier-style walkway snaking along 2 miles of the Mississippi riverfront.

The grant could be stipulated to go as high as $1 million, although historically it often falls around the $800,000 mark or below, per a presentation by Heidi Peper, an associate of development firm Short, Elliott and Hendrickson during the Dec. 11 council meeting.

The application deadline for the grant expires Jan. 12, prompting city officials to pursue funding for a project still in its early stages that won't see a cent come to fruition until years down the road.

During Tuesday's meeting, City Planner Mark Ostgarden characterized it as a situation in which it's impossible to pin down any concrete numbers for council members to evaluate—outside of vague, ballpark estimates—without funding to propel the design/planning process in the first place.

"It might seem like a little bit of the cart before the horse, but unfortunately we have to do these resolutions now to make that application (completed) in a timely manner," Ostgarden said. "We're not going to know a final project estimate until we have the funding that's going to allow us to hire somebody to do that work."

During the Dec. 11 council meeting, Peper advised city representatives to aim high with their efforts to accrue funding for the project, bearing in mind they always retain the option to refuse the grant if costs prove too high for the city to meet.

"How do you bite off this big animal? You can go big and see what input you receive and then back off if needed," Peper said, "and that's kind of been the recipe to (Short, Elliott and Hendrickson's) success: You go big, you ask for as much as you're eligible for."

Two council members—Sue Hilgart and Jan Lambert—voted against the resolution.

Hilgart took issue with the 80-20 ratio of funding, voicing concerns about the vagueness of the grant and wondered if Brainerd would be able to afford to meet murky cost figures down the road.

Preliminary estimates place the total cost of Three Bridges Trail at about $10 million.The plan currently in place is to divide the construction in four phases, valued at $2.5 million each, over the course of four years.

Along with the Transportation Alternatives Program grant, city representatives will be looking to acquire a Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources grant, state bonds and the attainment of a high-designation for state-allocated Legacy funds. The Federal Trails Program (administered by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources), the Initiative Foundation, the BNSF Railway program for communities, Essentia Health and others pose as smaller potential sources of funding to fill in the gaps.

In other business, the council:

Approved a resolution to authorize the chairman or vice chair of the Brainerd Regional Airport Commission to act as a representative of the city of Brainerd in all capital projects or decisions for the coming year.

Approved a resolution to designate the Brainerd Dispatch as the official city newspaper for 2018, a contract that makes the Dispatch subject to any notices, ordinances or publications from the city offices.

Approved a resolution to designate a number of institutions to serve as depositories for any moneys held by the city during the course of 2018. These institutions include Bremer Bank, Wells Fargo, BlackRidge Bank, US Bankcorp, Deerwood Bank, Neighborhood National Bank, Frandsen Bank and Trust, RiverWood Bank, RBC Capital Markets LLC, 4M Money Market, PMA Financial Network Inc. and Morgan Stanley.

Authorized the Brainerd Fire Department to apply for two grants to potentially upgrade a backup generator at Station 1 and install a new generator at Station 2. Station 2 currently does not have a backup generator.

Approved a resolution to set the 2018 seasonal pay rates originally approved by the park board back in Dec. 19. These pay rates pertain to temporary, part-time positions such as park maintenance workers, softball umpires and pond hockey referees.

Authorized Brainerd Police Chief Corky McQuiston to sign and execute a joint powers agreement with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to commence the National Incident-Based Reporting System project upgrade to the police records management system. The endeavor represents a $55,000 grant to serve as a pilot agency for federal conversions to the crime-reporting system. Federally, the goal is to implement the new system nationally by 2021.

Awarded a contract to the lowest bidder for the purpose of remodeling the local office of the State of Minnesota Drivers License Agency, currently located at City Hall Annex at 213 S. Fifth St. The contract would be for Baratto Brothers, priced at $21,280.

Approved a resolution to investigate the possibility of changing the ordinance or removing the liquor zone for downtown Brainerd. Currently, statutes limit bars, pubs and other liquor establishments of that nature to the downtown district. The resolution stemmed from a case where conflicting properties and use permits are hampering the licensing process for Big Dog's Bar and Nightclub, a bar located in a corridor connecting 718 and 714 Laurel St. properties. With the possibility Big Dog's may move operations or have to reapply anyway, council member Gabe Johnson speculated if removing the ordinance would present a more open, healthier market for such establishments. Council member Sue Hilgart cautioned there were benefits to setting aside certain zones for bars/pubs and removing the ordinance may also hamper the city's efforts to revitalize its downtown district.