Meeting for the first time, a new task force already has plenty of ideas for how to transform a swath of city-owned land along the Straight River into the crown jewel of Faribault’s extensive parks system.
At the urging of City Administrator Tim Murray, Faribault’s City Council created the task force early last month. Given the importance of the project, Murray said it made sense to get input from business and community leaders as well.
The future park will take up close to an acre along the Straight River directly north of the viaduct. The city and its Economic Development Authority now own all undeveloped land in the area after buying the last parcel late last year. Most of the city-owned land in the area wasn’t initially purchased with a park in mind. Prior to 2015, the EDA was buying properties in the area and cleaning them up with a housing, hotel or retail development in mind.
As president of the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism, Nort Johnson isn’t known for counseling against downtown development, but in this case however, he thinks there are more useful ways the city could utilize the space.
“We do have to make sure that we keep our fair share of attractive spaces for people living in the area to use,” Johnson said. “Because of connectivity to downtown and Teepee Tonka Park, as well as its location on our growing trail system, it really is an ideal hub.”
Murray presided over the task force’s April 13 meeting and was designated as its de facto chair. To start the discussion, Murray and city staffers put together a slideshow highlighting design concepts and existing facilities that have served other communities well.
“The real next step is to develop a list of anything and everything that could go here,” Murray said, adding with a laugh that there’s no bad ideas — even “horseshoe pits or the world’s biggest chair.”
Murray suggested several options to liven up the area, particularly around the existing Straight River Trail. At the top of the list could be a mural, with the base of the viaduct providing a natural spot for a five-panel painting.
Mike Richie, suggested that land under the viaduct could be an ideal spot for exercise equipment as well, along the lines of what he’d seen along trails while living in the Milwaukee area.
Councilor Janna Viscomi liked that idea and encouraged the task force to look at putting more amenities under the viaduct. She sees it as perhaps the most valuable part of the park, since the bridge provides a somewhat protected spot for recreational activities.
On the south end of the viaduct, Murray envisions a future public/private parking lot serving the whole park, basic amenities such as a basketball court near the railroad, and a conventional playground.
The park’s central amenity was the focus of the discussion, with existing facilities in a pair of larger nearby cities catching the task force’s eye. One was brought to Murray’s attention by Johnson, though he isn’t a member of the task force itself.
Run by a nonprofit, downtown Rapid City, South Dakota’s Main Street Square combines several amenities eyed by the council. It serves as a skating rink in the winter and a combination splash pad and outdoor event center during the summer. Murray noted that splash pads are particularly popular because they provide an opportunity for water-related fun that is open to all ages. Splash pads also come without a risk of drowning, so there’s no need for the city to hire a lifeguard to supervise them.
The space was completed while Johnson was director of the Black Hills & Badlands Tourism Association. With an innovative design and buy-in from a variety of local stakeholders, he said the project is a great example of what can be achieved by forward-thinking city leadership.
Another innovative design shown the council by Murray is the popular ice skating loop in Maple Grove. The loop is a cornerstone of a $15 million project completed in 2015 and which serves as a cornerstone of the city’s downtown. Anchored by a rink, the loop is a popular outdoor recreation destination even during the summer, attracting a young crowd fond of skating and rollerblading. The complex also includes a splash pad, ample playground areas and other amenities.
Faribault Main Street Coordinator and Task Force member Kelly Nygaard was also a fan of plans to create a flower walk, perhaps featuring Faribault’s beloved peonies. Nygaard said that for group tours, an outdoor activity suitable for people with limited mobility is a big draw.
Viscomi said that the design should try to accommodate kids of all ages, while mitigating potential safety concerns. She expects the skating loop will attract largely older kids, especially during the summer, so wanted to keep activities for younger kids away from it.
“I really like the splash pad, though it means we wouldn’t be able to have volleyball,” she said. “So many of us have grandkids or are going to, and it’d be nice to have a place to take them other than to the Twin Cities.”