Sharon Stark Auditorium

The Sharon Stark Auditorium, named in 2018 after the late matriarch of the Little Theatre of Owatonna, sparked the creation of policy for naming city facilities in Owatonna. (Bridget Kranz/People’s Press)

OWATONNA — One of the very special parts of Owatonna’s unique and rich culture are the various people who dedicate their lives to enriching their community.

“Periodically we’ve had requests from the public to name certain facilities after certain people,” said Kris Busse, the Owatonna city administrator, during last week’s city council meeting as they discussed an official policy on naming city facilities. “We had examined [a policy] back in November and tabled it due to some concerns by the council.”

After some reworking and changes that were made to the policy — changes which were then approved by City Attorney Mark Walbran — the city council unanimously approved the policy that regulates the procedure in naming a facility after an individual.

The policy first came to question in August 2018 after a large group of people gathered and requested that the city rename that West Hills Auditorium — which houses the Little Theatre of Owatonna — after their late friend Sharon Stark. Stark had been a long supporter of Little Theatre since its inception and also played a big hand in making sure events such as pageants, recitals, and the annual Hometown Sampler were able to go off without a hitch inside the auditorium. She died in May 2018 at the age of 80 after a brief battle with cancer.

While it was no question at the time whether or not it was appropriate to name the auditorium after such a profound figure in the Owatonna arts community, it did leave the council concerned about setting a precedent without a formal policy in place.

The policy adapted by the city council on Oct. 1 lays out the proper procedure for the naming of a city facility from here on out. Written recommendations for naming of a facility should be presented to the appropriate department or staff and should be signed and dated by the person submitting the proposal. Recommendations may be submitted by any Owatonna citizen, organization, or city department.

Recommendations will come before the advisory board most closely associated with the facility, such as the West Hills Commission or the Park Board, to name just two. The advisory board may exercise the option of recommending an appropriate memorial to an individual or organizations such as planting trees or flowers or recognition on current donation plaques and places of honor.

Once approved by the appropriate advisory board, the recommendation will come before the city council for approval and designation after they hold a public hearing on the naming proposal. Those opposed to the naming of a facility must submit a statement identifying the reasons for opposition, which will delay the naming for at least one month as the opposition is evaluated.

When it comes to the criteria that the city council will consider upon the naming of a facility after an individual, the policy states that it may be considered if that individual has made exceptional contribution to the City of Owatonna. If the proposal is for an individual who is deceased, it will not be considered unless that person has been deceased for three years or the proposal shows exceptional contributions.

In the policy, it is stated that renaming is strongly discouraged. Any proposal to change the name of an already named facility will require a petition including supporting reasons with the signatures of at least 300 Owatonna residents.

Police-regulated businesses, faith-based and political organizations, companies whose business is primarily derived from the sale of alcohol, tobacco, firearms, adult-use or other businesses deemed inappropriate are not eligible for naming rights.

Reach Reporter Annie Granlund at 507-444-2378 or follow her on Twitter @OPPAnnie. ©Copyright 2019 APG Media of Southern Minnesota.

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