Visitors' Center may be expanded
Winona Mayor Mark Peterson announced the creation of a Levee Park Redevelopment Committee at Monday's Winona City Council meeting. "The goal is to come up with a plan for making improvements to the park," Peterson said.
Winona Park and Recreation Director of Community Services Chad Ubl, who will be on the committee, said the group will look at "How do we revitalize Levee Park? How do we make it a destination for downtown?" Ubl said that while he could not comment on potential proposals by the current committee because it has not met yet, discussion by previous committees revolved around bringing more "place makers" to Levee Park. "Place makers" are active or passive features that bring people to a place, for example, the band shell, the fields, the playground, and the bike path at Lake Park. Former Mayor Jerry Miller appointed committees in the past, but action was never taken based on their reports.
"Those are the ideas of previous committees. Passive and active place makers, trail connections, landscaping, and public art are all things that I would assume would be discussed by this committee," he said.
The committee's first meeting will take place by the third week in February, Peterson said.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) Winona District Manager Mary Stefanski, who will also be on the committee, said that an FWS visitors' center with access to the river has been a topic of previous Levee Park discussions. Stefanski said the FWS is interested in having such a visitors' center with the potential for interpretative canoe trips on the river. She said that while Winona is the FWS's first choice, it might look at building the center elsewhere. "If the opportunity arose and we had a good location and enough community support, we could [build] anywhere on the refuge," she said.
Stefanski added that having such a center at Levee Park could help bring more business to downtown Winona.
Discussions of a such a visitors center at levee park date back to 1976. Plans for the center at that time included solar panels, a reflective pool, pseudo waterfalls, and a 150-seat theater. The idea resurfaced in 1991 with a $7 million plan including a "skywalk" and bronze sculptures. Removing the nearby railroad switchyard to open up more park space was also proposed. However, none of the past proposals ever received funding.
No matter what improvements the committee proposes, how to pay for them will be a key issue.
Frank Pomeroy will chair the committee, with Eric Sorensen as the vice-chair. Chad Ubl and Winona Assistant City Planner Carlos Espinosa will represent city staff on the committee. Also serving on the committee are city council member Pam Eyden, Tom Fassbender, Mike Kennedy, Bernadette Mahfood, Rod Nelson, Gaby Peterson, Jack Richter, Mary Stefanski, and Mike Walsh.
Lake Visitors Center expansion on horizon?
At a meeting with leaders of the hospitality industry in Winona last week, Mayor Peterson announced hopes to expand the Lake Park Visitors Center. His idea is to add office space to the Visitors Center and to have it open year 'round.
"It would make it easier for that facility to be open year 'round if it were staffed out there, and it would make sense for Visit Winona to be all in one building," Peterson said. Currently Visit Winona offices are located at the Winona County History Center.
The idea is in its infancy, Peterson said. He has not discussed it with the Visit Winona Board of Directors, city staff, or city council. Peterson said he was just "talking about some of my ideas for tourism and the role the City of Winona plays in promoting tourism."