Coon Rapids council puts future site of July 4 celebration to rest

Any lingering doubts that the annual Coon Rapids Fourth of July celebration will permanently move from Sand Creek Park to the new Boulevard Park off Coon Rapids Boulevard were put to rest at a Coon Rapids City Council work session Aug. 4.

The Coon Rapids City Council decided that Boulevard Park would be the permanent home of the city’s 4th of July celebration, moving away from Sand Creek Park.
The Coon Rapids City Council decided that Boulevard Park would be the permanent home of the city’s 4th of July celebration, moving away from Sand Creek Park. File photo

The work session was ostensibly for the council to review the changes made to the concept plan for the complete redevelopment of Sand Creek Park as a result of a neighborhood meeting this past spring for residents and stakeholders.

The renovation of the park carries an estimated price tag of $5.7 million which will be paid for from proceeds of the $17.4 million park bond referendum approved by voters in November 2013, with construction scheduled to take place in 2015 and 2016.

The council’s consensus was to approve the changes and bring the concept plan back for formal action at its Aug. 19 meeting at which time final design work with plans and specifications would begin.

But before getting into details about the plan, Mayor Tim Howe wanted the council to reach consensus on the proposal to move the Fourth of July celebration out of Sand Creek Park permanently, not just for the two years the park was under construction.

While the issue was discussed at a council work session March 25, Howe was not certain that consensus had been reached. At this year’s Fourth of July celebration Howe said he had heard from at least 100 people unhappy with permanently moving the event to the new Boulevard Park.

According to Tim Himmer, public works director, the neighborhood meeting had produced a 50-50 split for and against moving the celebration permanently to Boulevard Park.

Last month the council approved a contract to grade and seed the area between Coon Rapids Boulevard and the Coon Rapids Ice Center (including where the Firestone store was once located) for the new Boulevard Park. That project will also be paid for from the park bond issue proceeds.

Seeding will take place in September so that the grass will be established before winter comes. In the spring, final steps will be taken to make sure the new park is ready for the celebration, Himmer said.

City staff have been meeting with representatives of the Coon Rapids Firefighters Association and the Coon Rapids North Star Lions Club (who jointly organize the celebration each year) to work out the logistics of the move, Himmer said.

According to Shannon Moen of the fire department, the fireworks will be shot off on city property at Mississippi Boulevard and 109th Avenue, where the old Cook Ice Arena was located.

It’s all manageable and it will showcase that area, Moen said.

“We will make it work, absolutely,” said John Leggate, Coon Rapids North Star Lions Club member, of the move to Boulevard Park.

The ability to better handle traffic is a big reason to move and it “would be a crime” to tear up Sand Creek Park, which is being redeveloped into a first-class athletic complex, for a four-day July 4 celebration with the carnival, according to Leggate.

More off-street parking would be available at Boulevard Park than at Sand Creek Park, Himmer said.

Staff will be contacting both Anoka-Ramsey Community College and the Coon Rapids Family Center Mall for permission to use their parking lots to supplement existing parking at the Coon Rapids Ice Center, he said.

There are about 400 parking spaces at Sand Creek Park and between the ice center, college and family center mall there would be some 2,000 parking stalls available, said Ryan Gunderson, city recreation coordinator.

And the parade would be able to use just city streets and not impact a county road as it does with Northdale Boulevard at Sand Creek Park, Himmer said.

While on the fence at first, Howe said he was convinced following the discussion that moving the celebration to Boulevard Park on a permanent basis was the right thing to do.

“Moving forward, we will make it work and make the celebration bigger and better than ever,” he said.

The other four councilmembers present – Councilmembers Denise Klint and Ron Manning were absent – were also in favor of the switch in locations.

According to Councilmember Jerry Koch, the celebration is returning to the area where it was before moving to Sand Creek Park: the Coon Rapids Family Center Mall, then the Red Owl Center.

The carnival itself would also have greater visibility from Coon Rapids Boulevard at Boulevard Park than it had, or would have, from Northdale Boulevard if it returned to Sand Creek Park, Koch said.

Councilmember Steve Wells’ only concern was that plans are in place to handle the celebration at Boulevard Park and he was satisfied that staff, the firefighters, and the Lions club were working on them and that it was feasible.

Reconstruction at Sand Creek Park will include the reconfiguration of six softball fields, including increasing their size to 300 feet from the present 275 feet and in one case 265 feet.

“This will give us maximum flexibility for use,” Gunderson said.

There will also be two football/lacrosse fields fronting Northdale Boulevard, two lighted hockey rinks with an open skate area, a multi-purpose building for concessions, a warming house and with restrooms, a skate park, a half-basketball court, two tennis or pickleball courts, park shelters, play areas and trails, plus increased parking (some 525 stalls).

There was council consensus to drop a potential splash pad feature in the south end of the park – Koch called it a “horrible spot for a splash pad – and consider including one at other parks planned for development with park bond issue proceeds. Lions Coon Creek Park and Boulevard Park were mentioned as possibilities.

According to Himmer, feedback from the neighborhood meeting and from stakeholders has resulted in some of the parking being moved into a more central location in the park and shifting the four-wheel softball fields farther to the south.

In addition, the city is working with the county to line up the main entrance to the park with Redwood Street and move the existing traffic signal at the former Sorteberg Elementary School (now a school district early childhood learning center) to that location with dedicated turn lanes and pedestrian access, Himmer said.

To accommodate the Coon Rapids American Little League, which has baseball fields in the park on property that it owns, the plan shows a gated trail entrance into and out of the park at 114th Avenue. That entrance would be used for the organization to bring in supplies, but not for public access.

Officers of the American Little League were at the council work session to float the idea of a city loan to help it fund a project to light its fields.

According to Himmer, the city has done that for projects of the two other Little League organizations in the city: Central Little League at Aspen Park and National Little League at Riverview Park.

In the case of the Central Little League, the fields are on city property, while the National Little League project benefited both the city park property and the private Little League fields, Himmer said.

There was council consensus to consider helping the American Little League with its project.