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Hermannfest still in limbo

Staff photo by Fritz Busch Construction workers lay modular block as part of the Hermann Heights Hillside relandscaping project on Center Street Monday. Degraded Kasota Stone limestone on the hillside was demolished and excavated by M.R. Paving & Excavating, Inc. Park projects funded by local option sales taxes include relocating the entrance road, Monument Street, and installing parking lots and related infrastructure including accessibility additions, walkways and sidewalks. The public is asked to stay out of the park that is closed while the project continues this summer.

NEW ULM — The fate of Hermannfest 2020 remains in limbo at this time. The Hermann Monument Society (HMS) is considering a provisional plan for the event scheduled for Saturday, September 12, but no official decision has been made.

With the coronavirus still a concern, the event might not be possible but the construction at Hermann Heights Park also limits the festival to Harman Park.

HMS President Tom Furth spoke to the Park and Recreation Commission Monday to request preliminary approval for planning the festival.

Commissioner Carisa Buegler asked if the HMS was anticipating the state allowing higher attendance. Hermannfest typically draws more than the 250 people currently allowed by the state.

Furth said HMS does not want to hurry the decision process. Several events in Minnesota were canceled six months in advance, but it is unknown what the state of the coronavirus will be by September 12. If the event is limited to 250, Hermannfest will be canceled.

“Financially, I don’t think we can make the event go at 250,” Furth said. “We will never control the numbers. If they start allowing 500 we will start getting close to our range.”

HMS is proceeding with optimism in trying to develop a plan. Furth said Hermannfest is different from other festivals like Bavarian Blast. People at Hermannfest are spread out further. Harman Park allows people to spread out more and most people bring their lawn chairs.

Commissioner Bob Skillings asked if Hermannfest could be limited to only the fireworks.

Furth said it was possible. The City of New Ulm pays for the fireworks, meaning the decision will be up to the city. Furth said there was enough viewing area to do the firework show with social distancing.

The commission made no formal recommendation on the preliminary plan. The commission decided to leave potential Hermannfest plans to HMS and the city council.

HMS is expected to decide on whether to cancel the event by August 1.

Art Wall

The commission discussed issues related to the Art Wall Park. Recently the Art Wall Park has come under greater scrutiny due to racist and offensive images painted at or near the wall, including the bike trail tunnel under the 7th North bridge.

Park and Recreation Director Tom Schmitz said the Art Wall has been part of the park’s systems for nearly 20 years. The park was established to allow artists of all levels to display their art. Only the wall was authorized for displaying art. The storage building, the bike trail and the trail tunnel were never authorized for painting.

Schmitz said the rules are simple. The park is open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. All art is allowed as long as it is not obscene or offensive. In the event obscene or offensive images or messages are painted, volunteers or staff work to paint over these images.

Schmitz asked anyone who witnesses individuals placing graffiti anywhere but the wall should report it to the Park and Recreation Department or police. Any obscene words or graphics should also be reported.

“One of the concepts with this park unit was to concentrate graffiti and art in a location as opposed to having graffiti and art spread around the entire community,” Schmitz said. “I think it has served its purpose well over the last 20 years. Occasionally we have a few bad apples that spoil the bunch. I think we need to work together as a community to improve the experience in that particular park unit.”

RENU Update

The Johnson Park improvements are complete. The only remaining addition is the facade sign on German Street. Schmitz said the sign will likely be installed soon. A ribbon-cutting event will also be scheduled shortly.

Schmitz said the Hermann Heights Park improvements were about 30% complete. Underground utility work is complete. Dirt work will begin after the new wall has been constructed. The project is on schedule for completion in autumn. Hermann Park is closed during construction.

The Recreation Center is close to breaking ground. A construction fence has been placed on the south end of the campus. Demolition could begin within a week. The project includes a new aquatic center, indoor playground, gymnastic center and expanded fitness center. It is expected to be complete by August 2021.

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