Holiday garland receives another year’s reprieve
NEW ULM — The downtown holiday garland received another year’s reprieve.
The New Ulm City Council agreed to another year’s easement for the display, to give the city time to consider alternative options.
The holiday garland decorations have been a part of New Ulm’s history for decades, but in 2016, the garlands led to a fire. This began a conversation about the safety of the decorations and who is liable in an accident.
In 2018, the building owners signed a one-year agreement allowing the city to hang garlands while a permanent solution was considered.
Currently, the city owns the components of the garlands, including the bell, star centers and guide wires. The Public Utilities Commission (PUC) contributes $2,000 toward the purchase of fresh garlands each year. The Chamber of Commerce pays the remaining cost of the garlands. The Street Department installs and removes the garlands.
There are 24 buildings that can have the garlands attached, for a total of 12 garlands, but not all have anchors attached. In 2017, seven garlands were hung and in 2018, eight garlands were hung.
A subcommittee of the Downtown Action Committee investigated the cost to have each building inspected to determine if it could hold the weight of a garland. The estimate was $100,000.
The cost of installing anchors is unknown, but initial estimates were upwards of $50,000. The cost of new cables is estimated at $5,000 each.
City Manager Chris Dalton felt the city did not have enough time before the 2019 holiday season to make any changes and recommended another one-year easement with cooperating businesses to hang the garlands.
The city and New Ulm Chamber of Commerce would begin considering alternative options for the 2020 holiday season.
Council President Charlie Schmitz agreed it was too late to do anything different for 2019 and an alternative plan was needed.
Councilor David Christian would support another year-long easement but believes the garland tradition needed to end. He said when you start discussing these high dollar amounts, people are no longer willing to stick their neck’s out for garlands. He recommended decorating Broadway or German Park.
Christian thinks that if the downtown businesses were required to fix their building’s parapet without city aid, they would refuse to hang garlands.
“I just don’t think the city should be sticking our neck or money into things when we have other things that need funding,” he said.
Schmitz agreed the city did not have the money budgeted for this project and an alternative decorating option was needed.
Councilor Lisa Fischer has received a few calls on the garland and said once people understand the high cost of continuing the garlands, they understand why an alternative decoration plan is needed.
Councilor Larry Mack made a motion to offer a year easement for the holiday garlands, with a second from Christian. The motion was approved.
The council approved a pledge of $150,000 of city reserve funds to the New Ulm Baseball Association (NUBA) to build an observation deck at Johnson Park.
Johnson Park is scheduled to undergo significant improvements in 2019 as the first Reinvest in New Ulm (RENU) project. The plan is to have the improvements in place by 2020. Johnson Park will be used in the 2020 state amateur baseball tournament.
The observation deck along the first base/right field was not part of the original design request for proposals and would cost over the $14.8 million allocated for RENU. If the council agrees to include the observation deck in the Johnson Park project, the extra cost cannot come from RENU funds. The estimated $150,000 deck would need to come from New Ulm’s reserve funds.
By agreeing to fund the observation deck, New Ulm’s reserves will decrease by 1.45 percent. The city will also need to maintain the deck, which will increase the Park and Recreation Department’s budget.
NUBA plans to pay the city back for the deck through revenue generated by the park. NUBA believes the bulk of the cost will be reimbursed after the 2020 state tournament. Based on past hosting revenues, NUBA estimates $120,000. NUBA already contributes annually to the city budget through concessions tax, field rent, and the share of Mueller Park outfield fence ad revenue.
Schmitz was in favor of adding the observation deck. He believes that if the deck was not added now, the city would never build it. He felt adding to the park now was easier than expanding later, like what has happened with the Civic Center.
“If we’re going to do it, let’s do it right,” Schmitz said.
NUBA President Bob Skillings said the observation deck could be used for other events besides baseball, including concerts, corporate events or reunions. His goal is to pay the city back by 2020.
Mack supported the $150,000 pledge because NUBA has done a lot for the city and this was a one time opportunity to make improvements to an 80-year old baseball field.
Fischer was reluctant to make the pledge. She believes there were other projects, like the German Park amphitheater and Hermann Heights wall, that could use city reserve funding.
Fischer was concerned this could set precedent for other requests from other sports organizations.
Schmitz said the city had the ability to say no to requests, but he believed the observation deck was in New Ulm’s best interest.
“We are a baseball city,” Mayor Robert Beussman said. He pointed out that several New Ulm citizens have played for the Twins and that was rare for a community of New Ulm’s size.
Christian said he did not receive any calls against pledging money for the observation deck but did receive comments in favor of the deck.
Mack made the motion to approve $150,000 for the observation deck, with a second from Christian. The motion passed three-to-one with Fischer opposing.
The council removed the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau (CVB) policies and procedures language changes out of the consent agenda for further discussion. The request came from Shannon McKeeth, owner of Bingham Hall.
McKeeth wanted to make a statement that Lodging Under 50 was not represented when these changes were approved. McKeeth said the person representing Lodging Under 50 either did not understand what was being voted on or did not represent her belief.
Fischer agreed to pull the issue from the consent agenda for further discussion, with a second from Mack.
Christian opposed removing the item from the consent agenda. Christian said these policies and procedures were unanimously approved by the CVB and New Ulm Area Chamber Board.
Former Chair of the CVB Tom Furth attended the meeting and said he was involved with proposing the language changes as part of the Finance Committee. He said all CVB representatives were invited to a committee meeting to discuss these changes and it was approved by the CVB as a whole before being approved by the Chamber of Commerce Board.
Furth wanted the CVB procedures language changes approved by the council because they had already been through a lengthy approval process that was unanimous.
McKeeth wanted something on record stating Lodging Under 50 was not happy with the proposed budget. She objected to $750 less going into media than eight years ago.
Furth said the reason the media funds were similar to eight years ago was due to the Chamber of Commerce outsourcing functions now done by Chamber Marking Specialist Sarah Warmka.
Fischer made a motion to approve the CVB policy and procedure language changes. Fischer said she believes they had gone through the proper process, but wanted to give McKeeth an opportunity to speak.
Mack seconded the motion. He said the city has boards and committees in place for this reason and the Lodging Under 50 representative did support the changes.
The motion was accepted by the council.
A modification to the 2019 North Highland Avenue roundabout project construction plan was approved. This project was originally structured to be constructed in three phases over two months. This phasing allowed one constructed lane of traffic to remain open in each direction on North Highland and Oak Street during construction. The contractor M.R. Paving and Excavating has since requested the city consider a full road closure.
M.R. Paving said a full intersection closure would reduce the construction time to one month and provide a safer environment for construction personnel. Due to the anticipated efficiencies, the contractor offered a $10,000 deduction from the contract amount and full detour was provided.
Christian agreed the full road closure was safer and said he did not want to turn down a $10,000 reduction. The council unanimously accepted the change.