Cost, traffic prompt Three Rivers to opt for less-ambitious changes. plans.
The hills in Bloomington won't be loaded with thrill rides after all.
Faced with concerns about cost and traffic, the Three Rivers Park District has suspended plans for a summer ski slope, zip-line, high-ropes challenge course and other "gravity-driven, adrenaline-generating" activities in Hyland Lake Park Reserve.
The $27 million wish list -- a proposal to generate revenue by adding fee-based, year-round attractions to the park's popular ski and snowboard area -- is now a $15 million must-do list, including a larger chalet and improved ski hills.
"What we're doing here is taking a step back and saying those may still be interesting ideas, but we sure don't have to pursue them right now," district Superintendent Cris Gears said.
Off the list, for now, is a $4 million Snowflex slope, a skiers' version of AstroTurf sprayed with mist to keep it slippery for summer skiing.
Also on the back burner are a $1.5 million mountain coaster -- with two-person self-braking sleds connected to a tubular rails -- and a zip-line that would give harnessed riders a speedy rush. Other possibilities included an outdoor climbing area, a bike challenge area, an improved disc golf course, a challenge high-ropes course and a mountain board course, where riders use extra-long skateboards to race down slopes.
The initiatives were packaged into the $27 million proposal that also included improvements and expansion at the ski chalet and its parking lot, and upgraded access roads and trail connections at the park, located just south of Interstate 494, near the towering ski jump that's visible for miles.
Prices a factor
Gears said that he and board members questioned whether enough users would pay for the new features, at assumed prices of $12 a ticket for the mountain coaster and $30 a ticket for summer skiing. Each new activity would be expected to pay for itself with user fees, just as Hyland does now.
"The downside was that if those projections didn't hold up and we went ahead and built the improvements, we wouldn't be able to make a profit and we'd end up having to subsidize them," Gears said.
Another important factor was that more traffic and noise throughout the year was an issue for nearby Normandale Lake neighborhood, and for Bloomington planners and elected officials, he said.
Gears elaborated on the latest ideas this week after presenting them at a district board workshop Thursday.
What's needed now
Three Rivers Associate Superintendent Tom McDowell said the district's fallback position is to spend about $15 million during the next two or three years. Most of that -- $10.3 million -- would be spent to renovate the chalet and could approximately double its size. The chalet, which McDowell said was built in 1975 with an addition in 1996, is "cramped," he said, especially during crowded weekends and holidays, and is not as well laid out as it should be.
"There's food service, merchandise, ski school registration, equipment rental, ski patrol and staff areas, all of those functions in one space," he said.
About $1 million is also needed to improve the ski hills, McDowell said, and $3.7 million for expanded parking, upgraded roads and new trail connections.
The slopes attract 160,000 skiers and snowboarders annually, and they are used by about 30 high school teams for meets and practices.
"Our energies are going to be directed towards the near-term, more- pressing concerns," McDowell said. The improvements are needed mostly to catch up with the popular use, he said, not to attract more people.
Gears said that no money will be spent yet, other than to pay for the staff's time to propose the project and solicit potential designers. He said he expects that the board could select a consultant in late spring, with design work beginning in June. If the project proceeds, he said, improvements to ski hills would occur before next winter, with parking and road improvements in the summer of 2013 and the chalet expansion done in phases between 2013 and 2015.
Tom Meersman • 612-673-7388