Winona City Manager Judy Bodway has announced that instead of borrowing to finance renovations of the Lake Park bike path, city staff hopes to the fund the project almost exclusively with private donations.
Previously, the city had planned to designate Lake Park and the municipal airport as industrial parks in order to borrow the money needed for both projects without voter approval. If the city receives $140,000 in new donations, Lake Park may be dropped from those plans.
City officials report that a private anonymous donor has offered a $140,000 "challenge" donation, meaning that the donation is contingent on others matching the $140,000 pledge. According to staff, the project would be fully funded with that money, along with nearly $100,000 already donated by the Rotary Club and by the Coca-Cola Bottling Co., through the sale of commemorative Coca-Cola bottles, plus the $110,000 originally budgeted for the dike bike path.
Mayor Mark Peterson confirmed that a single, anonymous donor made the generous offer. A press release from city staff announcing the new plan was less specific, saying only that the Coke and Rotary donations "inspired a grass- roots campaign" and "some matching gift pledges" had been received.
The city will continue to prepare for the bond sale and industrial park designation plan in case fundraising goals are not met, Peterson said, but he is confident donors will come forward to meet the challenge.
Council member George Borzyskowski said that avoiding the plan to designate Lake Park as an industrial park was part of the impetus to go with private funding for the project. When asked why someone would donate for a project that already had funding planned, Borzyskowski said, "There was some question as to our making that part of an industrial area. I think that was the big kick right there. People said, 'Let's not go that route; let's step forward and help them out.'"
It is unclear whether city staff or elected officials decided to accept the offer and change of plans. When asked if he was involved in the decision-making process for the change of funding plans, Peterson responded, "Was I involved in the decision-making?" He paused. "There wasn't much of a decision to make," he continued, "There's been an anonymous offer to provide half the funds. The other half is going to be raised in short order." City staff could not be reached for comment on the decision and decision-making process.
Borzyskowski was not aware of the change of plans until after the press release was sent out. While it is typical for the city council to accept donations during council meetings, Borzyskowski said, "any time any individual or group is offering to donate to the city, I give city staff the green light on accepting."
The $280,000 in hoped-for, new donations, plus $100,000 in existing donations, and the $110,000 from the city do not add up to the $566,000 contract the city signed for the project earlier this month. It may be that the city has allocated additional funds, but city staff could not be reached for clarification.
When the city signed the contract for the resurfacing work on the bike path, it was announced that the project would begin by the beginning of September. It is unclear whether the city intends to have the full $140,000 in matching donations needed to fully fund the project before work begins.
"It's a wonderful gift to the community from somebody who values the bike path and all that it means for the community," Peterson said of the recent pledge.
Borzyskowski said he was very grateful to the donor and that the park is important to Winonans of all ages. As for matching funds needed, he said, "if there're people who believe in a city project, they will support us and help pay for it."
For more information on how to make a donation, contact the Winona Community Foundation at 507-454-6511.