Who owns Scout Park?
A “very, very preliminary” concept for a new joint university-community recreation center in Storm Lake could hinge on determining who actually owns Scout Park, the proposed site for a project.
According to Storm Lake Mayor Mike Porsch, Buena Vista University President Josh Merchant brought the idea for such a project to the City. Discussions took place with Porsch and City Manager Keri Navratil, but have not yet involved the city council.
BVU is interested in adding a fitness center, and if it is allowed to use the Scout Park land adjacent to campus, would like to forge a partnership so both the community and the students could use it.
The mayor sees promise in the idea.
“It’s a pretty cool thought. I’d like to have some public forums, to find out what the community has to say,” he told the Pilot-Tribune. “I’m on the side that would like a rec center, but I know that parks are very important to some people too. We don’t want to set a precedent of giving up our park spaces.”
Despite rumors to the contrary, Porsch said he has seen site drawings, and that the building would not take up the entire park. “It would be off to the west of the Lamberti Center, maybe taking up a third of the park land at most, and making use of the parking area that is already there,” he said.
“As a community we’ve been trying to come up with a YMCA or some kins of rec center for years and years. This might be an opportunity to help them [the university], and possibly do something for the community at the same time.” Porsch said. “The biggest thing is that if we’re giving up property in the city park, we want to know for sure that the community people will have full access to this center - not be limited in hours they can use it or something.”
One big concern on the university’s part is replacing a pool, as the college’s facility is nearing the end of its lifespan. “It would be a big problem if something happened to that pool,” Porsch said.
Discussions have not yet detailed what else would be in the building, although the mayor assumes it would at least include workout/weight rooms and spaces for groups to meet for activities. Memberships would be sold to the facility to help cover ongoing operations.
A boardwalk and bike trail access to the area are also possibilities.
Porsch said he is not sure if the university will expect the City to pay part of the construction cost, or if the land would be considered the City’s share of the investment. “We haven’t gotten that far. BVU doesn’t want to start spending money on engineering until it knows the land is going to be available.”
The City has visited with the scouting programs that use the park. “There is some apprehension by the Scouts, obviously. They might lose their cabin, and that’s very important to them,” Porsch said.
The other stumbling block is the question of who owns Scout Park. It’s a “gray area,” the mayor admits.
According to Iowa DNR realty specialist Luke Kramme, the department could find no evidence in its deed files of ever patenting the parcel to the City.
“I would say that, unless the City can prove otherwise, we will assert our sovereign ownership over this parcel,” he said in a letter that was forwarded to Storm Lake. “It was part of the sovereign lake before the dredge process and the spoil from the project ‘artificially’ created this land mass… if the City intends to sell the property, the burden is on them to prove ownership.”
Navratil said in a response letter that the city has found a deed that shows it acquired the park property by tax sale in 1929, but she said she is uncertain if it would be necessary to sell the property to BVU for a community-related construction to take place
According to a 1963 opinion from a local law firm to the City, it is likely that there was at one time an oral agreement with the local scouting organization for rights to use the property, and “it would be very questionable” whether the City would have the legal right to gift the property to what was then Buena Vista College.
Porsch mentioned a lease as one possibility, and said he felt the City does have the legal right to make the park land available.
In there past, there was lengthy discussion and some opposition over a portion of public golf course land that the City decided to sell for condominium development.
A decision could come down to determining how much of Scout Park was dredge land, and where the natural water line originally was. State drawings indicate that about half the park may have been created from dredging.
If the City can establish ownership of the original land portion farthest away from the waterline, Porsch thinks that may be enough to make way for a project.
“If we can get everything to work out, if we can keep the community people happy, and keep the Scouts happy, I think this would be great for the community,” he says, pointing out that a similarly joint facility between the college and community in Waverly has been successful.
“How many times have we tried to get a YMCA or some form of rec center? This might be a good opportunity to accomplish it,” he said. “What we have to find out is whether a rec center would be a better facility, or if keeping the park is a better facility. We need to be real careful and make sure we hear from the public on this.”