Imagine driving down Washington Street and seeing the tops of water slides as bathers drop into splash pools below street level in the area by Franklin School known as "the hole."
That could be the view if a proposal presented late Monday afternoon to the Brainerd Parks and Recreation Board becomes reality.
Between the proposal and a completed $8 million project is the question of funding -- such as a bond referendum or a public/private partnership.
After more than an hour of presentation and questions, the park board unanimously supported further study by city staff members. Debbie Olander, city council member and parks board member, said the project is exciting. "But then you start looking at the dollars," she said.
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An outdoor city pool has been a request from Brainerd residents for years.
"Probably the most requested thing in Brainerd right now is a swimming pool," said Mark Innes, parks board chairman. "I think it would be a terrific enhancement for the downtown and the Brainerd area."
Innes noted people come back to the Brainerd area often because of their childhood experiences at the Paul Bunyan Amusement Center. "That's where this thing could be a great project," he said.
Thomas Schaffer, consultant at Plymouth-based USAquatics, presented an overview for a proposed $8 million Brainerd aquatic center. A possible site uses the existing topography of a bowl-shaped depression across from Franklin Junior High School. The bowl, now about 6 1/2 acres of undeveloped green space with trees, grass and occasional deer, is flanked by Washington Street and 13th Street Southeast. The deepest center of the bowl is about 30 feet below the street level.
Using the existing slope is expected to save money, about $90,000 with nine slides, and may help with insurance costs considering the slide heights in comparison to building on a flat site. There are also costs related to the site for silt removal in the bowl. The proposal includes $200,000 for site preparation and clean-up.
An early concern from city staff and board members was whether enough space was devoted to parking with 176 proposed slots.
Schaffer said consultants have found that people often arrive by bus or bike and typically arrive four to a car. Additional parking options include using the Franklin School lot and creating an overpass for walkers or using a shuttle bus. And more parking at the nearby Northern Pacific Industrial Center was also suggested, particularly for buses.
Interest in the project has been brewing for years. Schaffer and Bruce Ericson, parks and recreation director, talked about the location for more than two years. Schaffer said Ericson's interest extends back nearly eight years.
"When I drove by the property, I really got excited about it," Schaffer said, specifically noting the slope for the water slides. Schaffer said he believes so much in the project's potential that he invested about $6,000 of his own money to develop the proposal. And Schaffer said he is willing to be involved in the city's efforts to form partnerships.
Schaffer said water parks typically retain people for six-hour stays and much of the revenue comes from concession sales. The park could be open 12 hours a day for about a 101- to 108-day operational season.
Employment levels call for 60 to 70 people at a proposed wage of $12 per hour. Salaries account for $455,400 in the total budget. The park itself is expected to cost $7,250,000 with professional fees an additional $550,000 and financial underwriting of $200,000 to reach the $8 million total.
Total operational costs without staff salaries is expected to be $382,700. Combine that with the salaries and the operational costs become $838,100 for a season.
Schaffer said consultants hope projected operational costs are high and that expected park users are estimated low.
In projecting revenues, consultants used estimates of one session of bathers each day instead of the expected two. Schaffer said water parks typically have a second group of bathers arrive daily -- like a later afternoon or evening shift.
Revenue predictions call for 2,100 people using the park daily for 101 operational days. If each person entering the park paid an admittance fee of $8, spent $2 at concession stands and another $1 for rental equipment the seasonal revenue could be $2,333,100. Based on those numbers, net revenue for a single season would be $1,495,000, before debt retirement payments.
Jeff Allman, Allman and Associates, Rochester, also attended the meeting and provided information on financing options and ownership, including a public/private partnership. Allman said the most likely option is a bond referendum. The possibility of using tax increment financing was dismissed as an option.
Allman said this type of project can be completed with a core group of people behind the effort.
Mary Gottsch, Brainerd Lakes Area Chambers of Commerce spokeswoman, said the chamber's view is that the area is more than capable of handling the traffic and people expected with interest in the park. She pointed to the number of calls the chamber gets from people looking for area attractions. The Brainerd/Baxter Lodging Association also said there may be additional help for marketing.
Parks can generate revenue. Schaffer said a park in Fairmont breaks even with revenues and expenditures about $220,000 while a park in Edina makes a $50,000 net profit on the concession stands alone.
No entrance is expected on Washington Street in consideration of the traffic there with an approach instead off 13th Street.
"You need to think big," said Dan Vogt, Brainerd city administrator, of the project. "You need to have a big vision on some of these things.
"... Not everybody up here lives on a lake. This is just a great possibility. Let's do everything we can to make this work."
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