Ness updates councilors, Reinert and Simonson on proposed renovations at historic Wade Stadium

Don Ness

Don Ness

Duluth Mayor Don Ness sent this eMail to Duluth city councilors Thursday morning regarding administration-proposed improvements to historic Wade Stadium in West Duluth, and cc:’d Sen. Roger Reinert, Rep. Erik Simonson and city lobbyist Kevin Walli:

“We just received a copy of a new resolution from Councilors (Garry) Krause and (Jim) Stauber regarding Wade Stadium. It’s unfortunate that these councilors didn’t reach out to the administration prior to writing this resolution. But since it is now public, I wanted to share with you the details of our work and important considerations regarding Wade’s future and our request of the legislature.

First of all, it’s important to understand the current status of the renovation plans. We have invested significant staff time in developing a conceptual plan and some very rough cost estimates. Tari Rayala has led this project and has done an outstanding job, but we should stress that the concept and budget at this point are very rough in nature based on her best guess as to the physical condition of the building and the future needs and desires of both the users and the fans who use Wade. It is important that we have in depth planning with the teams that use Wade and the public to fully understand the needs and desires to make the best possible baseball experience, while working with a limited budget. From that vision, the engineers and architects will need to do the in-depth design work to a) to have a better estimate of final construction costs and b) to have a truly shovel ready project.

The second important consideration to consider is the additional complexity of scheduling construction given both design work and working around the baseball season. Based on our discussions with the Huskies and our city architect, it would not be possible to undertake construction this fall, even if the state made their appropriation this year. The field work itself needs at least 7 months of advance work before it can be undertaken which gets us into the winter season and obviously we don’t want to do field work in the spring and summer. There is a number of additional complications to this project including the historic nature of the stadium — we will want to work closely with the HPC and SHPO to ensure that the project honors the important history of the stadium. Based on these considerations, our best case scenario for construction would be to start construction on August 25th, 2014 and for the construction to be complete for the start of the baseball season in the spring of 2015.

Due to these timeline realities, it makes most sense for the City to seek planning dollars during this legislative session. Tari anticipates that to do the detailed engineering necessary, that it will cost in excess of $500,000 and to do it well, it will be require 6-9 months to complete. If the legislature commits to the planning money in 2013, that should give us confidence that they are committing to this project and we will be in an excellent position to seek construction funding in 2014 based on a shovel ready project with detailed cost estimates. Not only is the project currently far from being shovel ready, but there is the significant question of local match that must be addressed. At this point, we do not have $4+ million dollars to match the state for construction. Without this match commitment, the project would not meet legislative criteria for this funding.

GrandmasDJThe local match is our most significant challenge and must be addressed prior to asking for construction dollars from the state. The challenge is complicated by the fact that the State currently prohibits the city from issuing G.O. bonds for park facilities. The only other options for the City to generate the $4 million dollars necessary (within the next 2 months of the legislative session) would be to use CIT or our general fund reserve – both of which I would strongly oppose. The option that councilors could consider would be to seek legislative approval to re-establish the ½ percent food and beverage tax that expired in October for the purpose of generating the local match necessary to support this project. In my mind, should the city explore this option, we would need to seek voter approval via referendum on this November’s ballot as a first step and then seek legislative approval next year. This alone is not an easy decision and would require careful consideration by the council and by the community.

If councilors have ideas on other ways that we could generate the $4+ million necessary to provide the local match that I have not yet considered, I would be very interested in hearing those thoughts. Without that commitment, it would not be appropriate for us to seek construction dollars this year for Wade Stadium. Instead, we should focus our attention on securing the design dollars needed and building public support for the financial commitment we would need to make in order to save Wade Stadium. That has been our plan during this legislative session and we have made good progress in generating support for this approach.

I think we all understand that the collapse of the top 3 feet of the right field wall has given additional attention to the dire need for investment into this historic structure. I greatly appreciate the sentiment of support and for those who want to do everything they can to support the project. That support is appreciated. However, it does not change the very real requirements, time lines, and need to secure a public match. Each of these variables make it clear that our current plan is the most responsible and most prudent. If the council wants to make the planning money for Wade the top priority for this year’s session, I don’t have a problem with that. But we should not be seeking construction dollars this year, we’re simply not far along in the process to do so.

My final comment is that with just a little bit of conversation we could have conveyed this information directly to councilors. It’s unfortunate when resolutions like this come up without any discussion with Dave or me because it creates needless confusion and conflict. Hopefully this e-mail gives councilors a better idea of the facts surrounding this project and sets forth the challenges still before us. The council’s leadership on this project will be critical — especially on finding the local match — we look forward to working with each of you as we explore ways to save Wade once and for all.

Thanks for reading this.”

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