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City approves concept plan for improvements at mini-park

Design includes outdoor stage, playground expansion, 24/7 restrooms

Marshall Helmberger
Posted 3/16/23

TOWER— The city council here, at their regular monthly meeting on Monday, approved a concept plan that would substantially remake the city’s mini-park. The plan, developed by Benchmark …

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City approves concept plan for improvements at mini-park

Design includes outdoor stage, playground expansion, 24/7 restrooms


TOWER— The city council here, at their regular monthly meeting on Monday, approved a concept plan that would substantially remake the city’s mini-park. The plan, developed by Benchmark Engineering, is being dubbed a “multi-modal trailhead development” designed to further cement Tower’s reputation as a major hub for outdoor recreation.
“There really is a big convergence of trails right there,” said clerk-treasurer Michael Schultz, noting that the Taconite snowmobile trail, the Mesabi bike trail, and the Prospector ATV trail all connect near the mini-park and civic center.
At the same time, the city plans to ultimately connect the mini-park with a paved walking trail connection to the city’s harbor. Another trail connection already in progress will connect the harbor to Hoodoo Point.
The concept plan calls for the construction of new amenities, including a covered outdoor stage, a second pavilion, an expansion of the existing playground, and a new paved trail connecting the mini-park to the harbor area. It also includes a new bathroom facility that would be open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, to serve trail users and other visitors to the mini-park area.
Whether a bathroom is needed has generated some debate, given its considerable cost of approximately $220,000 and the proximity of bathrooms at the civic center. The city had previously invested in new locks at the civic center to allow for public access to civic center bathrooms while keeping the rest of the civic center and adjacent fire and ambulance hall secure. Yet the council seemed to have warmed to the idea, noting its benefits to trail users. While original plans suggested a vault-type restroom, the council is now considering a facility that would be connected to city water and sewer and that would be heated year-round.
Council members also questioned whether the city would need to repay a portion of the grant funds they have received if they didn’t complete the bathroom project.
“Is it a requirement to have the restroom?” asked council member Kevin Norby. “It’s not a requirement but it was part of the grant,” said Schultz. The restroom was included as part of a $461,900 regional trails grant from Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation.
But Schultz made clear that other parts of the project, including the completion of an extension of Main Street and the completion of a new small craft launch at the East Two River were the priorities for the currently approved funding. And part of that grant was already tapped to pay for cost overruns on the construction of the new launch at the river.
The concept plan approved by the council Monday will require additional funding, so approval of the plan doesn’t mean the project is a go. Instead, it forms the basis for seeking additional grant dollars in the future, noted Schultz. An accompanying council memo on the project indicated the city will likely seek a DNR grant of up to $350,000 and a matching grant to the IRRR.
In other action, the council named the Tower News its official newspaper for 2023, but only after considerable discussion over whether the Tower News’ bid qualified as “responsible.”
The city is required under its charter to solicit quotes annually for its official publication and to accept the lowest responsible bid. The annual exercise has proven to be a regular source of consternation and confusion for the city council despite the fact that the city typically spends less than $400 a year on its legal publications.
Last year, the council had rejected the bid from the Tower News for failure to include a required publisher’s statement of ownership and circulation, which is filed with the U.S. Post Office and is required as part of the city’s bid procedure. This year, the Tower News bid included a two-year-old copy of its publisher’s statement, along with a copy of a quote addressed to Greenwood Township and another made out to the city of Tower. The Timberjay bid provided the most current publisher’s statement along with a current letter and completed bid form addressed to the city.
The Tower News’ bid 65¢ per column inch for legal publishing $2.50 per column inch for display ads, while the Timberjay bid 99¢ for legals and $3.65 per column inch for display ads.
Council member Norby argued that based on the cost per reader reached, the Timberjay’s quote was far cheaper, given its circulation advantage of better than six-to-one in St. Louis County. And council members appeared to question the accuracy of the Tower News’ circulation numbers, noting that they appeared to be exactly the same year-to-year, defying the normal fluctuation in circulation numbers experienced by other newspapers.
“I think circulation is an important thing to consider,” said council member Joe Morin.
But council members Bob Anderson and Josh Zika questioned whether the council could consider circulation and questioned whether the Tower News’ bid could be dismissed as not responsible. Schultz said that while the Tower News’ quote might be irregular, and lacked current circulation numbers, those probably weren’t enough to justify throwing it out.
“I guess it’s how you define ‘responsible,’” said Mayor Dave Setterberg.
In the end, the council appeared to reluctantly conclude that they had to go on lowest price. Anderson made the motion and the rest of the council concurred.
In other action, the council:
• Heard from Morin that the Minnesota Housing Partnership had moved Tower’s request to take part in a months-long process working toward a housing project had been advanced to the next level. He said representatives of the organization would be scheduling a visit to Tower in the near future to assess the community’s readiness to expand its housing base.
• Heard from Schultz that the Army Corps will not increase its funding allocation for the Tower-Breitung drinking water plant project. Two years ago, the Corps had approved funding 75 percent of the estimated cost of the project, or $3.375 million. But the process for final allocation of the funds has taken considerable time and the estimated cost of the project has increased sharply since then, leaving a funding gap of more than $2 million. City officials had recently met with the Corps’ Michelle Prosser in hopes that they would boost Corps funding to 75 percent of the latest cost estimates, but Prosser declined that request.
• Noted that the Project Love Lock proposal honoring the late Tower-Soudan teacher Carol Alstrom is moving forward and will have a dedication and unveiling on March 25. Schultz said councilors were encouraged to attend.
• Opted for more research on the possibility of renaming the street between the Tower-Soudan Elementary and the former football field in honor of Alstrom.
• Heard that the city is still waiting on the Community Development Block Grant program to complete an environmental assessment on an infrastructure project on S. Second and S. Third Streets. The CBDG had approved $96,250 toward the project earlier this year, but it’s unclear if that will be sufficient to move the project forward.
• Approved the low bid of $69,940 from Struck & Irwin Paving for crack sealing at the Tower Airport runway. SEH is set to receive $19,900 for engineering and construction administration, or about 22 percent of the total project cost.
• Agreed to conduct another Tidy Up Tower this spring, with $500 in city funds allotted for the effort. While the anti-blight effort has typically been undertaken on a weekday in the spring, after the snow melts, Anderson suggested doing it over two days, including a Saturday to allow for participation from volunteers who have to work during the week. “I think it’s a great idea,” he said.
• Gave kudos to the city’s ambulance service for its recent recognition by the EMSRB for achieving better than 80-percent compliance with nine different clinical quality measures.
• Appointed Morin, Schultz and city maintenance manager Ben Velcheff to examine the city’s GEM car to see if it can be made operable again. The electric vehicle’s batteries are no longer holding a charge and may need to be replaced. The car was acquired as part of a grant that included the installation of solar panels on the roof covering the historic train and was supposed to be used to ferry shoppers from the city’s harbor to shops on Main Street, but that idea never came to fruition.


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