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Park and Rec to study how to prioritize park development

NEW ULM — The New Ulm Park and Recreation Commissions will work on a method for determining which neighborhoods should be prioritized for park development.

The need to develop criteria for scheduling park development was the main takeaway for the commission after discussing land acquisition in the upper Cottonwood Street area for a potential neighborhood park. In June 2019, the city council was made aware of two parcels in the upper Cottonwood area that were available for sale that could be developed into a new park. The land sale could also serve to expand Settler Trail and Cottonwood Street and provide a location for a new water tower. Additional lots for housing could also be created.

The two parcels are still available. The combined cost of the two parcels is $290,000. There is only $201,735 in the Parkland Dedication account. Other city funds would be needed to cover the cost.

The commissioners were reluctant to move forward with land acquisition in this area because of the need for park space in other areas of New Ulm.

Commissioner Carisa Buegler questioned why upper Cottonwood was the first to be developed. She agreed that it was an area of the community that was expanding, but believed other locations were just underserved for parks and with a greater number of residents.

City Councilor and Parks Commissioner David Christian believed the land acquisition would be a difficult sell to the council because it would deplete the Parkland Dedication fund. Infrastructure concerns were another challenge.

“One of the reasons that lot has not sold is because of infrastructure not going to it,” Christian said. He believed developing the land would be a high cost and would still take years to see the installation of a park.

Buegler asked if there was an official method of prioritizing parks.

Park and Recreation Director Tom Schmitz said there was no formal schedule for prioritizing park development. In the past, it has been citizen-driven. The residents can push a project initiative. Currently, there are six areas in New Ulm without a traditional neighborhood park.

Schmitz said the city could develop a matrix for determining how to park development is scheduled.

Commissioner Bob Skillings said creating a system of criteria for development was not unheard of in New Ulm. The New Ulm Street Department uses a criteria system for determining which streets are repaired.

Commissioner Laura Evans suggested a work session would be appropriate for developing criteria.

Before setting a work session, the commission was asked to make a recommendation to the city council on whether to acquire land in Upper Cottonwood.

The commission was not convinced there was any urgency to act on buying the land. The two parcels had been up for sale for over a year.

Skillings did make a motion recommending the council considers a land acquisition in the upper Cottonwood Street area. Christian second the motion to bring the discussion to the council. The motion ultimately failed by a tied 4-4 vote. Commissioners Buegler, Evans, Leroy Flor and Bev Luneburg voted against the motion.

After the vote Luneburg said she believed other park areas that were already established were in a greater need for development.

Later in the meeting, Buegler made a motion to schedule a work session to discuss a method for prioritizing park development. The work session would take place after the next regular schedule Park and Recreation meeting on Monday, Nov. 9.

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Schmitz gave an update on RENU projects. Johnson Park is complete and a grand opening will be held in 2021, pending COVID-19 concerns.

Hermann Heights Park is about 80% complete. Schmitz said all that remains is the parking lot payment layer and lighting. The project is on schedule to be complete before the end of the fall. The grand opening will be held in spring.

The Recreation Center is approximately 15% complete. The building has limited use and capacity due to construction. The entire building will be closed in April until completion in the fall of 2021.

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The commission reviewed the preliminary budget for 2021. The expenditures for 2021 is $3.35 million. Director Schmitz said this was $1.7 million less than the 2020 expenditures. Schmitz said part of the reason for the budget reduction was fewer projects. Schmitz said 2020 was a record period for Park and Rec with he Hermann retaining wall project, RENU project, ADA improvements at Riverside and the Rec Center boiler. There will also be a decrease in revenue and expenditures in 2021 due to the ongoing COVID pandemic.

The commission recommends the 2021 fee schedule. The cost of Recreation Center membership was not included at this time because the center will not be open for most of 2021. The commission would come back to the commission with fee recommendations later in the year.

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Park and Rec. received a $5,000 cash donation from KNUJ’s Minnesota Twins 2020 Radio Affiliate of the Year Award. This money will be used to make improvements to Youth Baseball and Youth Softball at North Park and Harman Park.

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