A proliferation of ideas were sounded at the seminal meeting of the City of Winona's latest Levee Park Redevelopment Committee on February 26.
Comments varied, but numerous committee members mentioned the opportunities of providing shelter or shade at the park, connecting Levee Park to other city parks via a bike path, and planning events at the Levee, as well as the challenges posed by the adjacent rail yard and finding funding for any renovations.
"When you look back at the history of the committees, [you see that] there were obviously some issues with funding," Chairmen Frank Pomeroy said. Multiple city committees over a number of decades have explored renovating Levee Park, including the relocation of the rail yard that blocks off much of the park from downtown, but their recommendations were never acted on and their hopes for the park failed for lack of funding.
"Do we have a budget?" member Mike Kennedy asked, laughing a little as the committee prepared to adjourn.
"We don't at this point," Mayor Mark Peterson responded.
In framing the committee's purpose, Peterson assured members, "The end product is we are going to do something. Levee Park is going to be better because of the work that you're going to do over the next year, probably. This is not something that is not going to produce something in the end."
The committee's staff member Chad Ubl, of Winona Parks and Recreation, compiled much of the work of former committees for current committee members, including a study by a former committee, which found that relocating the rail yard would cost $3.7 million. Pomeroy argued that the committee should start planning events for this summer to attract people to the park without costly renovations. He also said that if the rail yard cannot be moved, perhaps the railroad company could conduct tours of engines for the public at the yard.
Kennedy said that at this point the committee should focus on its decision-making process, not specifics like events. "We need to hear the public's concept on what events and activities they want in their park, because it is their park."
The city has already had preliminary discussions of partnering with a University of Minnesota design program with experience in planning waterfront parks.
The committee needs to address a number of issues at its next meeting on Tuesday, March 12. While financial concerns surfaced almost immediately, there is also a fair amount of optimism on the committee.
While campaigning in the third ward, "all I had to say was Levee Park and people's eyes lit up or they got depressed—they had some kind of reaction," council member and committee member Pamela Eyden said. "It was something that everyone was excited about."
"There is an enthusiasm out there in the community that I haven't seen before," Peterson related. "People want to reconnect with the riverfront. They understand what Levee Park can symbolize and the impact it can have on the downtown area.
"There is an opportunity to do something that is going to last for generations," he told the committee.