Four of five members vote to proceed with project

Photo by Robert Williams
The resolution for the city to back the funding plans of the Frazee Community Development Corporation and the Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Commission to meet the end of the year deadline for the land purchase for the future Wannigan Park from owner Greg Ness was approved at Monday’s city council meeting by a vote of 4-1.

By Robert Willams

Editor

The Frazee City Council approved the Wannigan Regional Park resolution to allow for the purchase of the land and for the project to move forward with continued fundraising at the latest council meeting Monday, Nov. 21.

The resolution passed 4-1, with mayor-elect Mark Flemmer providing the lone dissenting vote after a lengthy presentation and discussion about the finances and future of the project.

Vice Mayor Mike Sharp has worked closely with the Frazee Community Development Corporation (FCDC) in recent months in an effort to bring both sides together with his emphasis on not having Frazee taxpayers responsible for the purchase in the near future should funding fail.

“At this point, we have a framework to make sure that taxpayers are not going to be on the hook, worst-case scenario, and that will be finalized here in the coming month or so and that will come before council. Myself, I feel really good about the resolution and where it’s at.”

Mike Sharp, Vice Mayor of Frazee

Mayor Ken Miosek confirmed similar feelings and Sharp made a motion to approve the resolution, seconded by Mark Kemper.

Prior to a vote, Flemmer raised his concerns.

“There’s been a lot of talk about the park and how great it’s going to be for the city of Frazee,” he said. “I appreciate the work of the FCDC and the folks putting in the work to try and get this thing; one thing they haven’t convinced me on is the value to the city.”

Flemmer presented survey results from his own research on trail users and how much money they typically spend per day, which the report claimed was $5.

“Is that really going to help Frazee; I’m not quite so sure,” he said.

Flemmer continued in discussing potential city costs of a road for $1.2 million; water/sewer and electrical costs in the future, connecting to the surrounding trails, a new bridge at the park and $2,500 the city already paid for an appraisal.

“We can talk about unicorns and rainbows, but the reality is, we’ve got a few problems there,” Flemmer said.

He continued noting the many changes that have come and gone with the proposed project, singling out seasonal camping, which is no longer part of the plan.

“There was a pretty good source of income on a steady basis and now that’s gone,” he said.

Flemmer also said he felt the city was being pushed into making a decision based solely on the whim and demand of the current landowner Greg Ness, who has been firm in his desire to finalize the sale of the property by the end of the year.

Flemmer questioned the accuracy of FCDC revenue projections, proposed expenses, Heartland Trail usage, along with the city having to sign off on the loan to make the land purchase.

“All these glowing reports of how great everything is going to be, I’m just trying to bring it down to earth just a little bit here,” said Flemmer. “It just seems we’re being forced to do something here, into a commitment at the last minute. If Mr. Ness wants to develop that area, is that not better for the taxpayers of the city compared to us being involved with a park that has some iffy statuses? I am opposed to the city being involved with co-signing this loan.”

The FCDC has been working with the Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Commission (GMRPTC). The commission is prepared to purchase the land and act as an interim holder for four years to allow time for grant applications and other fundraising. GMRPTC is providing an interest-free loan to FCDC for the purchase and will handle all the land transactions on its behalf.

According to FCDC member Ashley Renollet, the GMRPTC is acting as a bank and purchasing the land from Ness temporarily, in order to meet the sale’s timeframe. 

The negotiations between FCDC and the city have been stalled on getting the city to pass the resolution as a guarantor of the loan for the purchase. Things got sticky with the possibility of grant funding not being guaranteed leaving a potential tax burden on residents.

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

Speaking on behalf of the FCDC, Renollet spoke directly to Flemmer in rebuttal.

“We understand there is risk that comes along with this project, absolutely,” she said. “As a group, we have put in a lot of hours, doing a lot of back work on this, working toward some of those things that have changed along the way. We’re in good hands with the trail commission and the resolution does guarantee the city’s participation in the Wannigan Park project.”

Renollet addressed the city’s risk factor specifically if the funding was not to materialize.

“To mitigate that we are doing the work behind the scenes to make sure that does not happen,” she said.

Renollet cited other FCDC funding sources from private donations, monies from local business owners, along with county, state and federal-level sources of revenue in upwards of $11 million of community investment.

Mayor Miosek asked for a specific update on tangible funding.

The main source of grant funds for the purchase, $727,000, is at the legislative approval level. The project has been referred to the legislature with high rankings from the trail commission for approval. Those funds come from lottery money that will be doled out in 2023 by the legislature.

Aside from multiple grant applications, local fundraising is in the early stages, but there have recent, large contributions to the project of $50,000 each from Daggett Truck Lines and KLN Brands, along with a third donation of the same amount that came in Monday, according to Renollet. 

Flemmer interjected again, feeling blackmailed to proceed now and put the city on the paperwork, when the group could just wait for grant approvals to move forward with the project.

The sticker there is GMRPTC needs the city to be on board with the project to proceed with the purchase.

Despite his objections, the resolution went to a vote where Flemmer was quickly outnumbered 4-1 with Sharp reiterating that the city will not be on the hook for the money.

The city will also own the land once the purchase is finalized.

Flemmer went a bit off the rails claiming the agreement only stands if the FCDC actually exists in five years, which spurned both members of the group in attendance, Renollet and Hank Ludtke, and brought a rebuttal from the mayor.

“I don’t think they’re just going to walk away from this whole thing,” Miosek said.

“I can tell you with my personal integrity that will not happen,” Renollet said.

For FCDC board members, the passed resolution is a big step forward for the group and the park project.

“Our team is so pleased with this support from our council,” FCDC board member Polly Andersen said. “It signals forward momentum. We heard many comments of support from the council. Councilman Flemmer voiced some concerns that we will need to follow-up on. One was concerns regarding the changes to the project. We have shared that, at many points along the way. You know, change is adapting, with community ideas and enthusiasm. The community wants change and we’re excited about these things. It is important for the public to know that the board of Frazee Community Development has been conferring and responding to professional advisors who are setting the city up for success. This includes folks at the state and county, the Small Business Administration, our bank, our attorney, the park committee and local business leaders. Each has provided us with trusted experience that we have come to respect and rely on. We continue to have great expectations for what Wannigan Regional Park will mean for our area residents, workers and visitors.”

For more information on the project visit www.wanniganpark.com.