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Legislators leave bases loaded: Washington Ballpark project pushed to next year

Members of the Detroit Lakes Washington Ballpark committee started to plan for contingencies during their June 16 meeting after Minnesota legislators failed to pass a bonding bill during the 2022 regular legislative session, which included $1.17 million in state-match funding for the ballpark project in Governor Walz' bonding proposal.

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Artist rendition aerial view of a renovated Washington Ballpark in Detroit Lakes.
Contributed / City of Detroit Lakes / BHH Partners
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DETROIT LAKES — Members of the Detroit Lakes Washington Ballpark committee began planning financial contingencies for the ballpark's $2.34 million renovation project during a meeting on June 16.

After Minnesota state legislators failed to pass a bonding bill during the 2022 regular legislative session, which included $1.17 million in state-matched funding for the ballpark in the proposal from Gov. Tim Walz, committee members were at odds on how to fill the gap caused by the unexpected loss of state funding.

"I think one of the frustrating things, this being a bonding year, the fact that neither the (Minnesota) House or the Senate released any type of bonding worksheet is something that is, I'd say, atypical," said Kelcey Klemm, city administrator for Detroit Lakes. "Usually, they are working on a project list and they'd release what that project list is, and the (Minnesota) House had a bunch of hearings on it, supposedly, the House had a bill, no one saw it. It never saw the light of day."

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Designs for the renovation of Washington Ballpark in Detroit Lakes.
Contributed / City of Detroit Lakes / BHH Partners
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Designs for the renovation of Washington Ballpark in Detroit Lakes.
Contributed / City of Detroit Lakes / BHH Partners
2048_A2.1_Street Level Plan.jpg
Designs for the renovation of Washington Ballpark in Detroit Lakes.
Contributed / City of Detroit Lakes / BHH Partners

Adding to the confusion, Klemm said, he didn't even know if the ballpark renovation project was included in the Minnesota House's version of the bill.

"We were in the governor's bonding bill," he said. "We can certainly pick (the ballpark project) up after the election. Next session, it'll be an odd-year, so they'll be back into crafting a state budget ... they'll have the extra $9 billion dollars, or whatever surplus, that they didn't spend this last year, and then they'll also have a bonding bill on their to-do list because they didn't pass one last year."

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If no special session of the state legislature is called in coming months, committee members said they would resubmit the proposal during the 2023 session, but will also prepare backup funding options so construction on the renovation project could begin in 2023.

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Artist rendition from the bleachers of a renovated Washington Ballpark in Detroit Lakes.
Contributed / City of Detroit Lakes / BHH Partners
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Artist rendition from left field of a renovated Washington Ballpark in Detroit Lakes.
Contributed / City of Detroit Lakes / BHH Partners

"It just seems like that bonding bill, and the $1 million, was really the crux that moved (the ballpark project) along," said Klemm. "We certainly could look at other options, or try to move ahead without it, but it seems like, at this point, it's prudent just to wait and hopefully it gets funded next session, if they don't do a special session."

He also said the committee was waiting for the bonding bill to be finalized, and the ballpark projects funding secured, before starting their fundraising push. Now, he suggested they should probably start fundraising before next year's legislative session before any bonding bill is finalized.

However, one committee member said, it becomes difficult to fundraise for a project when there isn't a timetable for construction and half of the project's funding is caught in legislative limbo.

Another concern for the ballpark committee is a letter they received from the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office, which included 13-bullet-pointed questions about the renovation proposal that the committee will have to address.

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Artist rendition of a new main entrance on the corner of Washington Avenue and Langford Street of a renovated Washington Ballpark in Detroit Lakes.
Contributed / City of Detroit Lakes / BHH Partners
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Artist rendition from the infield of a renovated Washington Ballpark in Detroit Lakes.
Contributed / City of Detroit Lakes / BHH Partners

"There's a lot of keywords in here, 'should,' and 'may,' and 'shall,' it's not, 'you are required to,'" said Matt Malone, ballpark project manager for BHH Partners. "In historical preservation, you are 'supposed to' follow the guidelines of the National Park Service, as the owner, you don't have to, but then you run the risk of being de-listed and so there's a trade off with that."

One committee then exclaimed, "Is that a bad thing?"

Some of the items in the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office included:

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  • It is recommended to identify, retain and preserve features of the building site that are important in defining its historical character, such as fencing, circulation systems, light towers and benches.
  • The historic 1947 Cyclone fencing should be retained.
  • The historic light towers should be retained, repaired and reused, if possible.
  • The bleacher seat backs should be retained.
  • Additional information is needed concerning the artificial turf.

Washington Ballpark, as part of Detroit Lakes City Park, joined the National Registrar of Historic Places in 2008.
"It's a double-edged sword," said Klemm. "We have to deal with (the preservation office letter), but, when we're doing the bonding presentation, that's part of thing we're hanging our hat on. The state should help us because this is listed on the historical register."

Malone said the letter from the state preservation office isn't out of the normal routine and added he was just happy the letter didn't just say 'no' to the proposal.

"The optimist in me says, that gives us another year to deal with (the letter from the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office) and refine plans and then, if they pass a bonding bill next spring, maybe next fall we could have all of our fundraising and have everything ready to go after baseball season," said Klemm.

Multimedia News Lead Reporter
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