The University of Minnesota (U of M) may help craft a new plan to renovate Levee Park. The Winona Levee Park Redevelopment Committee voted unanimously last Tuesday to pursue a project approach proposal from the U of M College of Design.
The proposal offers to develop conceptual designs and a plan for realizing them. Landscape architects from the College of Design would meet with the committee, stakeholders—such as the businesses involved with the rail yard adjacent to the park and the Army Corps of Engineers—and the general public to lay out a vision of what the community wants for the space, how to meet regulatory requirements, and how to fund the improvements. More engineering and architectural work would be needed after the U of M project to create a final "blueprint" for contractors.
The details of the proposal and the $15,000 figure are not final either. What precisely the architects would do and what the final budget would be are yet to be laid out. Depending on whether on funding was public or private, the City Council may or may not need to rule on a decision to hire them.
The authors of the proposal, Director of the Center for Changing Landscapes at the U of M College of Design Mary Vogel and Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture Matthew Tucker, met with Mayor Mark Peterson, committee chair Frank Pomeroy, and committee member Eric Sorensen in early February to express their interest in working on the Levee Park project. The committee discussed the proposal on Tuesday before deciding to pursue it. A March 15 deadline for recruiting a graduate student to aid in the project at no cost to the city prompted committee members to approve the initial proposal and decide to make final decisions later, including how to fund Vogel and Tucker's work.
Committee chair Pomeroy indicated that the Mayor had pledged to support the proposal and funding options if the committee approved it.
Sorensen voiced his support of the proposal at the committee meeting. "It's an implementation plan, and it is what we've been missing relative to funding: concrete ways of making sure we move forward, however many small or large steps."
"We have to be finding ways to actually show progress, not just have another pretty plan sitting on a shelf," he added.
Committee members largely agreed the price was a good deal and that Tucker and Vogel were well qualified. Tucker's resume features a long list of landscape architecture projects from around the country including numerous waterfronts. The Center for Changing Landscapes has designed numerous waterfront parks on the Northshore and elsewhere in Minnesota.
A few committee members expressed questions and trepidation.
"They don't really get into a lot of detail of when they're here and how long they're here," Winona County Planning and Environmental Services Director Jason Gilman said.
"I wonder if we are not moving along really quickly; more quickly than we might want to if we had other entities' plans," Pam Eyden said.
Mike Kennedy expressed concerns with the designers taking too much direction from the plan recommended by the last committee in 2008, which he said focused on "not just what we can do but what they perceived as problems," that is, access to the park and connections to other areas. It is the committee's role to tell designers where adherence to the 2007 plan is appropriate, not vise versa, Kennedy said.
When asked if he believed he could bring new solutions to old problems at Levee Park, Tucker told the Winona Post that the story of Levee Park in Winona is not unique. "We have a legacy of post-industrial sites throughout America on our riversides. A project like this seems very simple: 'Oh, it's just a park. Why can't we make this happen?' In reality, it's very complex."
He added, "You might have had a whole different riverfront right now if the great recession did not happen."
Tucker said that with a strong vision and community involvement the project can succeed and his experience in bringing such projects to fruition would be valuable.