The Shakopee City Council is weighing options for funding a multimillion dollar renovation to the city's aging sand-bottomed pool, including whether they could hold a referendum to let voters decide on paying for improvements.

After a spirited discussion last week about the pool's value and the $7 million price tag for renovations, the council unanimously voted to have staff bring back details about the feasibility of the referendum idea.

"This is a little too lofty for me to support. I'd like to see it scaled down," Mayor Matt Lehman said of the project.

Council Member Angelica Contreras called the pool "our hidden treasure" and said it was an important asset for Shakopee.

"Yes, it's expensive, and if we keep waiting a couple more years, it's going to be more expensive," she said.

The 50-year-old chlorinated pool at Shakopee's Lion's Park, which is city owned and run by the Parks and Recreation Department, is one of just four sand-bottomed pools in Minnesota. The pool had 27,000 visitors in 2022 and use has grown more than 37% since 2019, a city memo said.

But the pool needs repairs, and city staff has been presenting plans to the council since 2018. A feasibility study found the pool's liner, plumbing and curb walls are failing and need replacement. The site's buildings are in poor condition and can't be reused, a city memo said.

The most recent plans call for demolishing the pool and buildings and installing new ones. The price tag has grown from $5 million to $7 million, which includes adding new features such as a climbing wall, a resurfaced slide and an area where parents can watch children play.

A restaurant also might be in the works. Plans discussed last week showed a Tommy's Malt Shop on site.

Nate Reinhardt, Shakopee's finance director, said that there was $1.4 million in the city's building fund — money from the Parks and Recreation Department's monthly rent payment to the city — and $2.7 million in a local projects fund that might be used for the pool.

The city also could borrow money from its own building fund, he said.

The project has been submitted for $4 million in state bonding funds by Rep. Brad Tabke, DFL-Shakopee, and Sen. Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake.

City Administrator Bill Reynolds reminded the council he wanted to get rid of the pool years ago.

"Many years ago ... I said, this is a money suck on our budgets," he said, adding that the pool needs to bring in more revenue and the site needs to be used year round to make it financially viable.

Several council members noted the city will be making decisions soon about other expensive projects, including the historic Schroeder House, the home of an early Shakopee businessman who had a brick manufacturing company.

Parks and Recreation Director Jay Tobin said the pool situation is urgent.

"This space is in dire need of attention," he said. "If we don't do something about it this year, I can't promise that we can open in 2024."