'Put State Park to a public vote'

Thursday, January 15, 2004

SL Park board concerned on $28 million project; sets goals for next decade, including a skating park

The leader of the Storm Lake Parks Advisory Board has some advice for the Storm Lake City Council when it comes to the $28 million State Park plan recently unveiled in the community:

Let the people vote on it.

"I think there are some people who are concerned about it, and I suggest that if they don't like it, they should get hold of their city council members now," parks board chairman Harold Redenbaugh said.

"The way it stands right now, it's all up to the city council. I don't see why people shouldn't have an opportunity to vote on the issue."

In a sense, the parks board made its vote heard this week. As it met Monday night to establish its priorities for the year and the coming years, backing for the State Park plan is noticeably absent from all lists.

The board pointedly acted to make preservation of all possible green spaces one of its immediate priorities. "Of course, that goes against the State Park from the start," Redenbaugh said.

The parks advisory board, which has no power other than to make recommendations to the city, was set up under former Mayor Sandra Madsen with the explicit charge in part to prevent obstruction of access to the lakefront, to prevent any disturbance to the view of the lake, and to prohibit using the parkland for commercial development, he said.

"Isn't that what a big lodge hotel and tourist rental cabins on the lakefront would be?"

City Administrator John Call presented the plans to the park board Monday, saying that it represents new opportunity for tourism and a dynamic new image for the community. The plan includes not just a western lodge-style hotel at an estimated cost of around $14 million and a large aquatic center, but items important to the parks such as an excursion pontoon boat, courtesy docks, a sand beach, community playground, lake fountain, lighthouse, and a three-acre Great Lawn to be used for community events.

Although the parks board has concerns, Call said he thinks that individual board members will come to support the project. "I really think the concerns they have are definitely overcome by the positives of the project," he said.

"I know there are some feelings about the commercialization of the lakefront, but we aren't talking about building gas stations and shopping malls," Call added after the meeting. "A lodge of cobblestones and timber, along with cabins and the replacing the artificial concrete rip rap of the shoreline with more natural boulders, seems to me to be a very positive development that fits with the natural appeal of the lake."

Call said the State Park plan should be broadly supported because it will improve residents' enjoyment of the lake as well as bring in tourists. "As a whole, it's a positive for everyone," he said.

While the opinions of the parks board are important, no change to the State Parks plan appears imminent as a result.

"The parks board is a good group, and they voice concerns when they see them - as they should," Call said. "They are concerned about the view of the lake, but obviously if we are going to bring in conventions and tourists, having these projects with a view of the lake is going to be what they want.

"I think the questions being asked by the parks board are very good ones. They needed more information and we gave it to them. I think they will feel more informed and better about the project now," Call said.

When asked if the parks board would consider any compromise on the State Park plan, Redenbaugh said there is only one way. "If they move it all back away from the lake, then we could compromise. As long as it doesn't disturb the view of the lake and keeps the roads where they are, there's no problem with it."

Redenbaugh suggests that the city consider using the site for the Harbor House to locate a lodge hotel if the city feels it is needed.

The city recently purchased the Harbor House site for $400,000, anticipating that it might be part of the State Park proposal. It was not included in the proposal from the Omaha consulting architect. "The city council never put much planning into the Harbor House. They wanted to see the plan from Ciaccio Dennell first. Now we've got to decide if we can get the Vision Iowa money, and if we can make this thing work," City Administrator Call responds.

"If we can make it go, the fate of the Harbor House is probably decided - demolition."

Whether there is a use for the site in the State Park or not, city officials consider the $400,000 as a good investment, Call said. "Where the property sits, it needed to be in public hands. The city is going to own the property forever."

There was some discussion by the parks board and Call on the State Park's impact on the municipal golf course. An executive golf course would be created by heavily revising the existing course on the same site, and some of the public-owned land would be shifted for use as a new neighborhood of townhomes to be developed on the course. Questions were raised by John Hughes at the parks board meeting as to why the municipal golf course could not be improved and beautified instead of turning it into real estate, but Call said that there would be room to expand the executive golf course if needed.

Also, Redenbaugh asked what the project might do to the community tax base. However, Call assured him that because of the financing plan, the tax base would not be at risk.

A joint meeting is scheduled for Jan. 21 at the BVU Conference Center with members of the Chamber of Commerce and Storm Lake Area Development Corporation to celebrate the new State Park Plan, and another meeting will be held at 7 p.m. on Jan. 22 at the golf course to present the State Park plan to the public.

Also missing from the park board's new priorities lists is a new pool or aquatic center to replace the aging facility, a situation the State Park plan does address with a proposed indoor-outdoor aquatic center development in conjunction with the privately-operated lodge.

Redenbaugh said the group is not opposed to a pool, but perhaps feels that matter is out of its hands.

"I was on the committee that drew up the plans for a new pool a few years ago. We produced the plan that we were asked to do, and then we were shot out of the saddle. A mayor's committee for a rec center was started to take it over instead, and then the State Park committee started and took that over. And we still need a pool, one way or another," he said.

The park board's short-term priorities, intended for action in the next year, are:

* Tear down the old water plant building in Sunset Park (the State Park plan proposes to convert it into a community building or sailboat clubhouse, but Redenbaugh said the architect must not have seen the interior to make such a judgement.)

* Stabilize the lake bank.

* Promote the existing Adopt a Park program.

* Revamp and extend the campgrounds in Sunrise Park.

* Preserve the green spaces.

The park board's intermediate-term goals, planned for the coming five years, include:

* Develop Radio Park, possibly with some half-size youth soccer fields and landscaping/planting.

* Renovate the bandshell (cost has not yet been estimated.)

* Add more open shelters which would allow for picnics but not compromise the lake view, Redenbaugh said.

* Further develop the south end of the campgrounds, and add hiking trails in the adjacent woods.

The park board established the following goals for its long-term (10 years) plan:

* Extend the LakeTrail to Emerald Park.

* Light the entire LakeTrail.

* Establish a skate park (no location has been specified, but the old golf course driving range site near the campground is being considered.)

* Add half-court basketball courts to Chautauqua, Frank Starr, W. 9th Street and Sunrise Park areas.

* Construct fences to enclose the Chautauqua Park tennis courts.

* Develop a new and better golf course driving range in the same area as the existing range at the municipal golf course.

The parks board also passed a motion to approve the veteran's memorial plaque proposed by the local Garden Club, to be placed on the west end of Chautauqua Park in the area of the existing veterans memorials.

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