The recently reconstituted Downtown Revitalization Committee, despite being predated by both the Levee on Main Task Force and the Riverfront Committee, was asked to make recommendations to City Council regarding proposals from the two latter groups. These were to address plans for a renewed, redone Levee Park in general, and what to do specifically with the site of the Wilkie steamboat replica, lately razed by the city at a cost of $45,000, coming, ironically, from the facilities fund.
The DRC suggests that a landscape architect be hired to work on the RC’s recommendations for the park’s overall redesign, and a feasibility study to look into the LMTF’s proposal of a two level steamboat-like structure to be built on the old Wilkie site.
City Hall staff is apparently uneasy with where all of this might lead, and has stepped into the middle of the process by recommending that the Council decide out-of-hand whether they want a structure on the Wilkie site at all. If not, then the ideas generated by the Levee on Main Task Force will be forwarded to the Multipurpose Center Task Force. Winona is rich in task forces and their acronyms, if not the dollars to fund their various schemes and projects. The MCTF is hatching a plan to combine a Shakespeare/performing arts theater with a basketball arena for Winona State University. Now it looks as if they will be encouraged to graft a steamboat onto this chirkendoose. Maybe the games could be announced from a replica pilot’s house.
At this point there is no sure or even probable source of funding for any of this stuff. The multipurpose arena could have a chance at state funding, and private backing from well-heeled local sports enthusiasts, but money for the Levee and a new steamboat is not even on the drawing board. The city has just backed away from a $6.5 million recreation referendum that was supposed to be funded by private pledges and a new tax.
So where is the money going to come from to do anything down on the Levee, much less build a steamboat replica/center/museum? What City Hall has accomplished, over two years, with the hard-work and generous contributions of many private citizens, is to spend a hefty sum to flush the one hard asset it had on our waterfront in favor of nothing, even though the original Wilkie Committee had secured funding, volunteer labor, and contributions to repair the replica steamboat. The only contribution of City Hall staff, city council, and the mayor was to sabotage the Wilkie Committee’s efforts and waste their time in a manner so clumsy as to make it obvious that they never intended the group to succeed at all, only waste their time.
At this rate, city government will soon have frittered away its last, best, asset: the willingness of volunteers to step forward to lend their time, energy, and creativity to the community.