Money Magazine’s choice last year of Woodbury as one of America’s top 15 places to live led off with a tribute to its year-round Central Park.
“Frigid Minnesota winters aren’t so bad when you have your own indoor park. That’s right: Even in deepest February, Woodbury residents can hang out among the trees and other plant life at the enclosed Central Park, which connects to the local library, seniors’ residence, and YMCA.”
But city officials aren’t necessarily satisfied. Soon, 1,500 residents will be invited, even badgered a bit, to respond to a survey asking them whether they feel that Central Park needs to have more to it.
With its playground, small cafe and leafy walkways, it’s an important “hangout zone for a city without a traditional downtown,” said city administrator Clint Gridley. “But we don’t have a lot of space there. There’s space; but not a lot of space.”
The issue arises as expectations for libraries change. Library visits are dropping in many places as people turn to more digital downloads, and librarians are turning to more programming to lure folks in.
A $24 million Hennepin County library that is to go up soon in Brooklyn Park is being billed as a “living room for the community,” designed around three hangout zones bathed in natural light.
In Woodbury, questions reviewed with members of the City Council last week offered residents options to:
• Add parking.
• Improve indoor seating, banquet and meeting space.
• Add space for programs for seniors.
• Update the playground.
• Add youth activity space (“e.g. Youth Center”).
Chad Lubbers, branch manager for the Washington County library that is attached to the park, said:
“One thing I’ve heard from residents is that a lot of seniors use the Central Park but we don’t have a senior center in Woodbury; we’re one of the larger communities that doesn’t have one, so people go to Cottage Grove for things. Maybe that thought is on someone’s radar.”
That impression stems from the city’s own calculations.
“The City Council looked at whether we needed a senior center,” Gridley said. “We had a Healthy Aging task force tell us, ‘We don’t want a senior center. We want a place to go but don’t separate seniors, don’t call it “senior” but make it a place for them as well.’ So we just do programming and include seniors.”
Central Park, which opened in 2002, “was a result of a citizen-led initiative to develop an indoor gathering place for the city as a way to preserve Woodbury’s strong sense of community by providing an area for informal gathering and meeting,” said parks chief Bob Klatt.
The city’s portion features live plants, a pond, a waterfall, meeting rooms, a 200-seat amphitheater, an indoor playground, a privately operated food service, and space it leases to the South Washington County school district’s early childhood family education center.
It’s reminiscent, in its cross-generational flavor, of Edina’s pioneering indoor Edinburgh Park, an acre in size, which dates to 1987. That park has seen some significant changes over the years, including the stripping out of trees that were needing bracing to stay upright.
Woodbury today is in the midst of a “little-later-than-10-year review,” Gridley said. The questions to residents are an important element.
“We’ll report back to the council in October,” he said, “and the council will decide whether they want to take it further.”
It’s not altogether clear from previous Woodbury surveys what citizens make of the indoor park or how often they use it.
The 2013 survey did find that 26 percent of those questioned had not swung by even once in the past year — not for the park or the library or anything else. Fifty-three percent rated the complex as “excellent”; 44 percent rated it “good.”
A phrasing of the question as to which piece of the site folks have used “most often” (library: 68 percent, park: 10 percent) left the park seeming relatively unused, but doesn’t prove that residents don’t use or appreciate it.
Beefing up the city’s offerings within the complex holds the potential to cut into usage of the attached YMCA, but Y spokeswoman Joan Schimml depicts the relationship as a healthy one so far.
“We continue to work together to identify areas where we may be able to provide additional programs and services to best serve the youth, adults, families and active older adults in the community,” she said. “We look forward to further collaborating with the city and county to ensure our facilities and programs are meeting the needs of the residents.”
The city plans to press residents hard for their views on this and other topics, Gridley said.
Fifteen hundred households “will get a letter from the mayor soon,” he said, “saying they’ve been selected randomly, and specially selected, so please take the time to fill it out. A week later, another letter will come from the mayor, saying, “this is us, the city, please fill it out. And then a third, a week later. There’s an online option, too.”