Last open house held for Park Referendum

By Patrick Fisher

The final open house for the New Prague Park Referendum was held a week before residents will vote on the proposed $3.5 million project. While there were less than 10 residents at the Tuesday afternoon meeting there were still several questions.

If the referendum passes, the city will construct an athletic complex south of the current city limits, at the intersection of State Highway 13/21 and Le Sueur County Road 29, then redevelop the western portion of Memorial Park, the city's oldest park. The renovation would include a bandshell, garden, walking path, a redesigned veteran's memorial area, new playground equipment and other changes.

Residents at the open house questioned the proposed changes to Memorial Park. They had concerns about the bandshell, asking what type of events were planned for it, what kind of noise would be produced and how the city would deal with parking and any possible congestion.

New Prague City Council member Kay Wilcox and Gary Meyer, chair of the referendum task force, said there were plans to increase parking along Park Drive, the one-way road that goes through the park, and to have certain streets designated for resident parking only. Neither Wilcox nor Meyer saw the bandshell being used for a hard rock concert or having a concert going to 1 a.m.

Wilcox said the park board was working with Steve Bruchman, Community Services Director for the New Prague Area Schools, on having weekly events at the bandshell, but she didn’t see such an event drawing 500 people to it. She added that a long-range plan called for a larger parking lot near the armory, off of Lexington Avenue.

The current plans call for redevelopment of Memorial Park west of Park Drive and reconstruction of the road in front of the Park Ballroom and the New Prague Golf Club.

Originally the plans for Memorial Park called for the entire park’s redevelopment, beginning from the east near the New Prague Public Pool to the west near the New Prague Memorial Library. Some of the plans were eliminated for this phase of the project to reduce the cost, but may be done at a later time.

Wilcox said the redevelopment of Memorial Park would make it a community gathering space, with the bandshell the focal point.

It was asked why the bandshell was being proposed west of Park Drive and not have it east of the road, where there were more trees. Meyer said they wanted it in an area that had more visibility.

A question was also asked about replacement of playground equipment at Memorial Park if the referendum fails. Wilcox said there is funding for the playground equipment and there are plans to improve it regardless of the outcome of the referendum.

If the referendum passes, the city would sell $3.5 million bonds to finance the project, which property owners in New Prague would repay over 20 years. The estimated cost to an owner of a house with a market value of a $150,000 home would be approximately $135 a year, $11.25 a month. The cost would be $225 a year for a $250,000 home.

The proposed athletic complex includes one adult/Babe Ruth baseball field, four adult/youth softball fields, two soccer fields, an open fence baseball field that would also be part of a multi-purpose field and a snowmobile trail access. Removed from the plan were four more soccer fields, a skate park and an ice rink. If the referendum passes the athletic complex will be done first and work on Memorial Park will begin after the completion of the complex.

A 40-acre area has already been purchased for the athletic complex. The city used parkland dedication fees paid by developers to purchase the land. If the referendum does not pass, the land would be rented out as farmland until it is ready for development.

A question was asked regarding user fees for softball or baseball teams using the complex. Currently the city charges fees to teams and for reserving the fields. For men’s softball leagues the city charges $195 per team and for women it is $165 per team. For reserving fields the city charges different fees for those who are residents of the New Prague Area School District and those who are outside of it. For residents the fee is $25 for one field and $50 for two. Non-residents pay $50 for one field and $100 for two.

It was asked if people who use the fields could bear more of the burden in the cost of the athletic complex.

Wilcox said it becomes difficult in trying to figure out what to charge for who uses what in the community.

Concerns have been voiced by parents about having their children crossing Highway 21/13 to reach the athletic complex. Wilcox said a landowner, who feels strongly that the athletic complex is needed, has made an offer to donate land that will provide a trail beginning within the city limits and leading to the complex. With the trail starting in New Prague, the city can provide a controlled crossing across the highway. The park board is looking at the offer.

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