Coon Rapids council reaffirms plans for park bond

The Coon Rapids City Council has reaffirmed its plan to put a park bond issue on the November 2013 election ballot.

But it will mean any action on phase two of the proposed community center project would be pushed back to 2014.

Those decisions came out of the council’s 2013 strategic planning project goal setting work session at the Harvest Grill Jan. 15.

Back in November 2012, the council had a work session to discuss the park, trails and open space master plan that had been prepared last year by Brauer & Associates.

At that time, the consensus of the council was to move forward with a park bond issue this fall to allow voters to decide.

The master plan had ranked projects in three tiers with tier one being top priority.

The council consensus then was to place tier one and two projects on the ballot for the initial phase of the redevelopment project.

They included complete renovation of Sand Creek Park, complete renovation of two of five cornerstone parks identified in the master plan (Riverview and Crooked Lake without beach upgrades) and major trail and sidewalk improvements.

According to City Manager Steve Gatlin, the estimated cost for those projects would be in the $16 million to $18 million range.

But in deciding Jan. 15 that the park bond issue should go ahead as planned in November, the council consensus was to tweak the components of the referendum.

Still planned are the complete renovation of Sand Creek and Riverview parks and major trail and sidewalk improvements, but work at Crooked Lake Park will be scaled back to include parking lot and playground rehabilitation and some other work, but not a complete renovation, according to Gatlin.

The council has asked its Parks and Recreation Commission to recommend three or four neighborhood parks as the highest priority for needing improvements for inclusion in the park bond issue, Gatlin said.

Improvements to existing neighborhood parks were ranked in the lowest or third tier in the master plan.

In addition, councilmembers would like to see some park-like improvements at the Coon Rapids Ice Center and proposed community center site fronting Coon Rapids Boulevard “to dress it up and enhance it,” Gatlin said.

As well, the council wants a dog park included in the bond issue to replace the existing dog park at Trackside Park, which has caused issues for neighboring residents.

That could include a dog park in the area of the compost site at Bunker Hills Regional Park, with which discussions have taken place with Anoka County, or one on city-owned land in Evergreen Business Park, or both, Gatlin said.

But before making a final decision to place a park bond issue on the 2013 ballot, the council will hire Decision Resources, the public opinion survey firm, to do a community survey to gauge public support for a referendum.

According to Gatlin, staff met with Decision Resources, which has conducted community surveys for the city in the past, following the November 2012 work session to get its perspective on the park bond issue.

It was Decision Resources’ strong recommendation that the city should conduct a specific park survey on possible support for the referendum, Gatlin said.

That is projected to take place in late March or April under a timetable for the park bond issue presented to the council by Gatlin.

“Decision Resources has a very good track record of predicting the success of referendums based on its survey,” he said.

According to Decision Resources, the most important elements of a successful referendum include providing “something for everyone” and being “affordable,” Gatlin said.

To implement all the recommendations of the park master plan would likely require two separate bond issues spaced five years apart, according to Gatlin.

Discussions with Decision Resources also included the action by the council in December 2012 to approve a professional services agreement with Perkins+Will to prepare a master plan for a possible phase two community center project, Gatlin said.

That master plan, with which the city is working with Anoka-Hennepin School District 11, Anoka-Ramsey Community College, Coon Rapids Athletic Association (CRAA) and Anoka County and its Library Board, is scheduled for completion by June 2013.

Potential components include a new county library, new alternative school, new classrooms/offices (college and seniors), gymnasium/track and meeting rooms.

And while lease agreements with potential partners would generate some revenue, it would not cover the entire project cost if the project was built, according to Gatlin.

And the last Decision Resources citywide survey completed last summer showed public support for a phase two community center was not strong and considering both projects at the same time could negatively impact potential success of the park bond issue, Gatlin said.

The consensus of the council Jan. 15 was not make any decisions on whether to move forward on the potential phase two community center project once the master plan is completed this summer.

But staff was asked to continue discussions the rest of this year with the potential partners on component priorities and how the project would be paid for with a view to bringing it back for consideration in one form or another in 2014, Gatlin said.

Peter Bodley is at [email protected]