by CHRIS ROGERS
Its namesake plants have yet to bud this year, but Winona city leaders and one enterprising citizen laid big plans for the future of the Dr. C.A. Rohrer Rose Garden in Lake Park earlier this month.
As a boy, the rose garden was practically in Kevin Cross’ backyard, and he loved visiting it. Cross now lives out of town, but he still owns his parents’ old home, his childhood home, and he still visits the rose garden. For him, it is a quiet place to reflect and appreciate. “It seems to have this synergistic effect of calmness that comes over you,” Cross said.
The 1957 rose garden is not quite living up to its former glory, however. It has far less plantings than the 1,500 it boasted in its heyday, volunteerism that once kept it manicured has declined, and the city had to remove beleaguered raised beds this winter, Winona Park and Recreation Community Services Director Chad Ubl stated. “They were, to be blunt, beyond repair,” Ubl said.
Cross approached city staff last summer with a pitch to use a combination of public and private funds to refurbish the rose garden, and he donated $50,000 so far toward the project. Spurred by Cross’ donation, Ubl used $5,000 of the $17,000 remaining in the rose garden’s dedicated fund of past donations to commission a conceptual plan for a redesigned rose park. The plan includes lots of new rose plantings — 12,000 square feet of them — as well as new walkways, repairs to the existing gazebo, the addition of a new shelter, and the planting of a new shade garden. In later phases, Ubl and his department would like to narrow the width of Lake Park Drive and replace the asphalt with decorative brick pavers. The narrower roadway would slow traffic down as it goes by people quietly enjoying the rose garden, Ubl explained. City staff would also like to add a new overlook at Lake Winona that would be connected by a new path to the rose garden. It would create a natural connection between the Lake Park bike path and the garden, Ubl explained. The plan also includes space for potential sculptures or other artwork.
The core improvements and expansions Cross and Ubl want to make to the rose garden itself are estimated to cost $362,000. The entire plan is expected to cost $956,000. Cross said he plans to lead a fundraising campaign to contribute private donations toward the project. It is unclear exactly how much money the city would contribute, but Ubl said he will make some recommendation this fall as part of his department’s 2019 budget request. “Hopefully, it’ll be a good public-private venture that we can get a lot of volunteers and donations coming in from the community, as well,” Cross said.
“It’s a very ambitious plan,” Mayor Mark Peterson stated. However, the city and donors might as well as see if they can make it happen, he added. “I think it’s all going to come down to finances,” City Council member George Borzyskowski said. It might work, and it would be nice, he continued. Since Cross is willing to put his time and money into it, why not give it a try, Borzyskowski added.
Asked if the nearly $1-million project was realistic, Ubl responded, “I think these are all feasible goals, and it’s staff’s job to prioritize the multitude of projects we have throughout the park system and the needs we have throughout the park system and bring those recommendations forward.” Ubl noted that the project could be done in phases. He added, “If we fall short in any goal for fundraising, the city would have to decide whether it can contribute an amount that would complete the project, or we may need to look back at the phases and see if we can make changes that wouldn’t significantly reduce the design concepts but could reduce the costs.” Ubl also discussed the possibility of the city borrowing money for the project or applying for grant funds.
“What concerns me about this more than the money is two things,” council member Gerry Krage said. “The money will or will not happen.” Vandalism and ongoing maintenance were Krage’s two concerns. The city and the donors should consider how to minimize vandalism before investing tons of money into the project, he said. The plan does include security lighting. Krage also noted, “Roses are beautiful, but they’re a lot of maintenance; who will be doing all of that maintenance when you run out of volunteers? That’s a lot of extra work for the city.” Cross said he was hoping to renew volunteerism at the rose garden, and Ubl stated that the city hoped to raise an endowment that would help pay for ongoing maintenance.
The council gave Cross and Ubl their blessing to continue planning and fundraising.
“We’d definitely want to see something brought forward and considered in the future,” council member Al Thurley said. “I think 2019 might be a little soon, but we’ll see.”
“It could be beautiful and a huge asset for Winona,” Peterson said. “I think we should continue the conversation and see if we can’t make it happen.”