A few summers from now, a city park and beach along with a DNR boat access may be just a short stroll from downtown Nisswa.
Nisswa Mayor Brian Lehman said a public park and beach is something the community has wanted for years. Even in lake rich Crow Wing County, public beaches are not common. Nisswa tried to obtain land for a beach eight years ago, but wasn't able to secure the property.
This time may be different. And it took a public-private collaboration to start the ball rolling.
The 15.8-acre property, part of the Berniece Thurlow Estate, is between Nisswa Lake and Highway 371 just north of the stoplight intersection by downtown Nisswa. The family wanted to sell the entire property in one transaction and had time constraints that meant interested buyers had to move quickly, creating a virtually impossible hurdle for the city and DNR.
A third party was needed in order to make a deal work and lakes area businessman Arnold Johnson offered to help. This month, Arnold S. Johnson Enterprises signed a purchase agreement to buy the entire property. The agreement gives the city and DNR the option to each buy three acres. A closing date is expected later after snow melt gives Johnson an opportunity to inspect the property.
But the purchase agreement, which Arnold Johnson put together in a week, gives the city and DNR time to organize funds to purchase the acreage they want at an appraised value.
The concept for the public park creates walkways in a wooded area with picnic tables, restroom facilities and an event shelter. A bench retaining wall will separate the greater park area from a small lawn that leads to the beach and shallow water for swimming.
Nisswa has looked at Baxter's Whipple Beach and Pelican Beach for examples. Lehman said with the terrain in Nisswa, the area will be more like a park with a beach.
The concept for the DNR's portion creates 22 parking spaces for vehicles with trailers and a boat landing. There are options for connections to the Paul Bunyan Trail. Lehman said having a conceptual drawing was key in showing all parties involved what could happen on the site.
With the challenging time constraints, Rob Johnson, RE/MAX Commercial Group/Johnson Commercial Advisors, said this is a unlikely deal. The seeds were sewn during a conversation between Rob Johnson and Lehman, who both serve on the Nisswa Chamber of Commerce Board.
"I didn't realize how badly the community really wanted this," Johnson said. "I think it's just going to be a fantastic thing."
The community desire for a public beach, outlined in the city's comprehensive plan, was tempered by the need to find a third party willing to spend money for the land and give public bodies time to purchase part of it. Rob Johnson approached Craig Fink, owner/broker at RE/MAX Lakes Area Realty. Fink suggested contacting Arnold Johnson, who later checked out the property with his wife, JoAnn.
"He said, 'I want to help,'" Rob Johnson said.
The parties met on the afternoon of the March 1 snowstorm and a purchase agreement was signed six days later. Up against another bid, the ad-hoc group was one of just three or four interested in the property. But Arnold Johnson's bid was the strongest in protecting the future interests for the city and DNR. Rob Johnson said there are no plans on how the other 9.8 acres may be developed. The property is zoned residential.
Next steps for Nisswa include seeking private sector donations and grants. Lehman said the city may consider bonding if efforts to raise funds fall short.
"We are looking at all options right now," Lehman said.
At the March 21 city council meeting, Lehman said he'll ask the council to set up a fund for donations.
Stacey Waidelich, owner of R.W. Carson's jewelry store on Main Street in Nisswa, said everyone she's talked to is enthusiastic about the project.
"I think it's something Nisswa has needed for a long time," she said.
For business owners, Waidelich said a park and beach area creates recreational business opportunities and gives people another way to access the city - including by boat or bike. She said a public park also gives area residents another place to go to enjoy the beach and boating with their families.
"I just think it's exciting."
RENEE RICHARDSON can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5852.
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