Negotiations to continue at next city council meeting

Photo by Robert Williams
The city council and the FCDC are continuing negotiations centered around grant applications and funding for Wannigan Park after an update by Hank Ludtke at the city’s first Committee of the Whole meeting Wednesday, Oct. 5.

By Robert Willams

Editor

Back in August, the Frazee City Council tabled a vote on being the guarantor of grant applications for the purchase of the land marked for Wannigan Park. Council members were not keen on the city being left to cover any of the purchase price of $810,000 should grants not be approved.

The topic was again tabled in September after the council asked to see financials from the park project and the Frazee Community Development Corporation (FCDC), but those were not provided.

Wannigan Park board member Ashley Renollet attended the September meeting of the Frazee Parks and Recreation committee with a potential solution, indicating the FCDC is willing to show the council their financials every month to show there is good confidence for the organization financing the project if the grant funding falls through. 

Current owner of the land Greg Ness has been firm in his desire to finalize the sale of the property by the end of the year.

The Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Commission (GMRPTC) is prepared to purchase the land and act as an interim holder for four years to allow time for more grant applications and other fundraising. Renollet explained the GMRPTC is acting as a bank and purchasing the land from Ness temporarily, in order to meet the sale’s time frame. 

The key to an agreement with the city council is the FCDC’s willingness to make a commitment to the city saying if grant funding does not come through the organization will find the funding, so the burden does not fall on the taxpayers. 

Wannigan Park supporters fully expect to receive acceptance of one of their first two grant proposals. The park’s plan was in the top tenth percentile for both grants that have been applied for already. 

Parks and Rec committee member Mike Sharp expressed support for the park, but reiterated his August city council meeting comments that the city cannot be on the hook for the money in four years when it is due if the grants do not come to fruition. 

The FCDC has previously reported donations and pledges received of around $150,000. The FCDC has entered an agreement with West Central Initiative to better aid in tracking donations and pledges. 

A potential agreement between the FCDC and the city rests on the city taking ownership of the land on the basis that if there is no grant money to cover the purchase the FCDC will then take ownership of the land from the city via quit claim deed and be responsible for the financing. 

Both Park and Rec Committee members Sharp and Mark Flemmer expressed being in favor of the resolution if there is an agreement showing the FCDC has a financial commitment to purchase from the city.

Mayor Ken Miosek was the first to voice his support for the project in August citing the positive potential of the project to Frazee outweighing the risks considering the diligence the FCDC and Wannigan Park board have put into securing financing already.

FCDC board member Hank Ludtke provided an update on the status of the Wannigan grant applications at Wednesday’s Committee Meeting of the Whole.

The Wannigan Park project grant application has moved to the second stage in attempting to qualify for a $727,000 grant after receiving approval and a recommendation for funding from the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR), according to a report by Ludtke.

The grant is one of 85 projects selected to be recommended for funding from the 2023 Minnesota state legislature. The complete package of those projects totals $79 million. The package was approved by a super majority, 12 out of 17 members. The LCCMR consists of 5 Senators, 5 Representatives, 5 citizens appointed by the governor, 1 citizen appointed by the Senate, and 1 citizen appointed by the House. Because of the super majority vote, the $79 million package is not expected to change.

The money will be coming via an endowment from the state lottery. It is not state bonding or sales tax funds. The Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund (ENRTF) is dedicated to funding special environment and natural resource efforts in the state.

The next LCCMR meeting will be in St. Paul on Dec. 8, to review language for the 2023 recommendations.

Ludtke also addressed the council’s concerns in wanting to see more financial information on the project.

“We are still working on the tabled resolution on making it more palatable for the council and we expect to have something for you next month,” he said.

The second grant is for a total of $15,000 from the North Country Trail Association. The trail protection grant is to be used for an easement for the hiking trail planned for Wannigan Park.