Civic center touted for Red Wing
A local group's plan for a civic center in downtown Red Wing met with tough questions and skepticism at a public workshop Monday night.
Red Wing Civic Center, an eight-person committee formed to research a civic center project, presented its plan to around two dozen residents - including City Council members - in the Foot Room at the public library.
"Downtown retail is suffering. We have lost the patrons and the patron diversity," said Paul Richards, the main speaker for Red Wing Civic Center's presentation. "A civic center could be a way to draw more people downtown and stimulate private investment."
The first step in determining if a civic center would make economic sense would be to conduct a feasibility study, Richards said. "What we're asking from the city is to accept ownership or be a sponsor for the study and to fund all or part of it," he said.
When asked how much a feasibility study would cost, Richards said it would be about $60,000 split into two phases.
"The first initial investment would be about $30,000, and then you would decide whether to continue in a more detailed form," Richards said.
"The first phase of that study is going to determine if it's financially viable or not," said Ron Schiemann, another member of Red Wing Civic Center. If the study determines the civic center would not be viable, the City Council could decide to shelve the plan before spending the other $30,000, he said.
Reaction by City Council members to the idea of the city funding the study was tepid.
"I would not be comfortable sinking money into a feasibility study before you have a community discussion," Council member Peggy Rehder said.
Council member Michael Schultz said he was concerned if the civic center would have an impact on businesses further out from the site or if it would be localized to one particular section of downtown.
"You start getting two or three blocks away, does it have an impact? I'm not sure," he said. "That's one of the things I'd want to look for in the feasibility study."
"We have discussed this with probably about 150 community and business leaders," Richards said, adding that getting local business support has been difficult without any specifications for the project.
Richards said the feasibility plan would need to be conducted before specifics of cost and design could be determined, but the group has identified a site on Broad Street across from the YMCA as a preferred location.
It would be central to downtown and could make use of city infrastructure already in place, Richards said.
A provided concept for the civic center features an exhibition hall that could double as a sports arena, as well as a hotel, retail space and an underground parking facility. But Richards said the concept was made only to show some of the possibilities and should not be seen as a definite plan.
The Red Wing Civic Center presentation also made mention of the Downtown Action Plan sponsored by the city in 2009. Its purpose was to identify the main issues facing downtown businesses and create a strategy to make the area sustainable.
One idea mentioned in the Action Plan is to "create vibrant gathering places" that would attract new crowds to the downtown area.
Richards said a civic center would fulfill that goal.
"When you think about that downtown action study that was done in 2009, how many stores in downtown Red Wing have closed since then?" Schiemann asked. Funding the feasibility study could get downtown moving in the right direction, he said.
"My concern is that we would be heading down a path where the city is paying for operating costs, and I just don't see a lot of appetite for that," said Council President Lisa Bayley, adding that a similar debate has waged over funding Mississippi National Golf Links without conclusion.
"I find it exciting," Bayley said. "But it seems so ambitious that it sets me back a little bit."
Red Wing Civic Center's presentation and design concept can be viewed at http://redwingciviccenter.wordpress.com.