The Free Press, Mankato, MN

January 31, 2014

Our View: Nurture plan for parks

Why it matters: As the community grows, so too will the need for recreational and green space. But resources in government, as always, are limited

The Mankato Free Press

---- — The three-part series presented by Free Press Media reporter Mark Fischenich underscored the growing “wish list” for more parks in Mankato and the economic reality to fulfill that demand.

First there’s the operational reality that it costs to maintain, improve and expand some of the existing parks. Cost? $13 million. Add in the wish list and we’re tripling that number.

Normal city planning identifies the basic standard of having a large community park within 1.5 miles of homes. With the city expanding as rapidly as it has and land being as expensive as it is, the dollar amount quickly adds up.

Then there’s the additional goal of ensuring neighborhood parks are available within walking distance of all homes without having to cross any major roads. Ten of these exist but as things progress there appears to be a need for another 17 such parks. While requiring developers to provide land or money for neighborhood parks we should remember land alone doesn’t make a park. And existing neighborhoods such as Lincoln Park neighborhood or other areas south and southeast of MSU have no neighborhood parks and they deserve to be included in future plans. But the price tag is expensive in paying for turf, trees, playground equipment and basketball courts.

Now we come to the big ideas such as sports facilities, swimming pool upgrades and even a $2.5 million bridge connecting Sibley and Land of Memories.

To date, the city has accomplished much since its comprehensive plan of 12 years ago. The new Riverfront Park, Kiwanis Park, the extension of the Minnesota River Trail to Sakatah Singing Hills State Trail and a connection to Minneopa State Park were among the major additions to the park system and in some cases with help from outside groups and businesses. The recession slowed down some of the progress.

One such quiet need has been at the region’s primary baseball field – Franklin Rogers Park, the granddaddy of local baseball fields. Essential maintenance alone costs nearly $1.1 million. It will be in competition with the newest baseball complex by Rosa Parks Elementary with improvements costing about $800,000.

Adding big ticket ideas to the existing needs and we’re looking at well over $40 million. Cases could be made for nearly all of these projects and the strains that accompany a growing community can be felt in all infrastructure

But now the pent up demand has a list of wants and needs that will require the City Council to make some hard decisions. But even with a pared down list and partnerships with some projects, funding will be a big issue.

Nothing comes free so if the community truly wants these perks, they will have to pay for them probably with new funds (read increased taxes or fees).

One option the city is considering is for the Legislature to allow expansion of the city’s local option sales tax which is now reserved for downtown development and the airport. A voter-approved bond referendum is another possibility.

We ought to first look to ensure the money set aside for the airport is needed and properly used. Restrictions by the Legislature may need to be loosened as well as expanded.

The City Council needs to ensure the basics are taken care of first. If we have neighborhoods still lagging, the priorities lie with them. Then from the basics, we suggest they examine the big ticket items that provide the greatest service to the largest number of people.

And obviously the 12-year-old comprehensive plan was drafted when things were different. A long-range strategy of maintenance, new construction and orderly development will go a long way to satisfy the needs we now believe will be in our future.