South St. Paul will vote on more than $10 million in major parks improvements in February.
If approved, the budget referendum will be used to develop Kaposia Landing, repurpose McMorrow Field and improve the city's 51-year-old Wakota Ice Arena.
The city moved forward with the plan after testing the waters with a resident survey this spring, the first of its kind in South St. Paul.
Support for the parks referendum was tepid, but Parks and Recreation Director Chris Esser called the results "encouraging" and said his department will work to better inform residents about the plan in the next six months.
South St. Paul hasn't passed a major parks referendum since 1990, Esser said.
The Feb. 11 referendum would increase property taxes by about $8 per month for homes valued at $150,000, the median for South St. Paul. Most survey respondents said they would be willing to pay about $2 per month for park development.
About half of the $10 million that is being sought in the referendum would devoted to developing Kaposia Landing, a park built from a redeveloped demolition site along the Mississippi River in 2006.
South St. Paul hopes to add a slew of improvements to the 87-acre park, including four softball diamonds, a baseball diamond, two playgrounds, volleyball courts, trails and scenic overlooks, a combination performance and picnic pavilion, and two playgrounds. The site currently has a six-acre dog park and a few trails.
Construction on Kaposia Landing would conclude in late 2016 or early 2017, Esser said, when the Parks Department would begin converting the ball diamonds at McMorrow Field to flat, multipurpose fields. That process would take an additional two years and double the city's soccer facilities, Esser said.
"It's kind of a cascading effect," he said. "We have to have those fields up and running at Kaposia Landing before we can convert McMorrow, because we can't do without those four ball fields."
Meanwhile, the city hopes to complete potential improvements to Wakota Ice Arena by fall 2014. Esser said mechanical upgrades to the 51-year-old original rink and 1997 addition are needed. The plan also calls for remodeled locker rooms, new meeting space and a training facility the city could lease.
The vast majority of survey respondents rated South St. Paul's parks highly, but they were divided on proposed improvements; 59 percent said they would support a property tax increase to improve Kaposia landing, and about half supported changes to the ice arena and McMorrow Field.
Some parks improvements, such as a splash pad and additional tennis courts, were left off the referendum because the majority of respondents opposed them.
The phone survey, administered to about 400 residents by a third-party company, was the first of its kind in South St. Paul. City Administrator Steve King said the size of the project made a survey useful, and the city took the opportunity to assess other services more generally. Respondents rated quality of life and city services in South St. Paul highly.
"It was the first opportunity during my 10 years here to have a general survey that just took the temperature of the community, and we got good results," King said.
Tony Wagner is a Twin Cities freelance writer.