WILLMAR — The plans and specifications for the Robbins Island Regional Park project to be funded by the Invest in Willmar local option sales tax have successfully gone through the lengthy approval process required, ending with the approval of the Willmar City Council during Monday's meeting.
The Invest in Willmar board, Willmar Parks and Recreation Board and the Willmar Public Works/Public Safety Committee recommended approval of the plans at their respective meetings over the past few weeks.
The Willmar council still needs to decide how to pay for the project. Revenue from the 2018 voter-approved 0.5 percent local option sales tax has fallen significantly behind the $250,000 per month estimate. The COVID-19 business shutdown will presumably make that revenue shortfall worse. This means the city will have less cash on hand than it had hoped, leading to unexpected questions regarding financing of the project.
"The COVID thing has put us in a different situation," said Councilor Shawn Mueske. "The revenues haven't come in as planned."
Most of the sales tax projects are expected to be financed using bonds and the sales tax revenue would be used to pay off those bonds. If sales tax revenue is less than expected, the city could find itself having to use property taxes to fill any funding holes.
The council plans to hold a special Finance Committee meeting, during which all councilors will take part, to figure out the financing for perhaps not only the Robbins Island project, but all of the local option sales tax projects.
"All council members should be a part of that," said Councilor Kathy Schwantes.
The Robbins Island project has an estimated cost of $2,975,625. This includes $1,905,500 for the parking, road and water main improvements, plus $475,000 in construction costs for two shelters. However, those shelters will be built only if the bids for the road and water main work come in at or below the estimated budget. They will be listed as alternates on the bid documents.
"We want to get the road and parking lots done for sure," said City Administrator Brian Gramentz.
The project costs also include construction contingency, administrative and testing costs of $595,125.
The Invest in Willmar sales tax has $3 million earmarked for Robbins Island. The tax was approved for 13 years and is estimated to raise approximately $30 million. The revenue will be used for six Willmar projects in total — stormwater improvements, upgrades at Robbins Island and Swansson Field, a new recreation and event center, additional athletic fields and a major upgrade of the Willmar Community Center.
The Robbins Island plans, created by Bolton & Menk, include a new road and parking lots for the 55-acre park on Business Highway 71 in Willmar. The new road will be two-way, with traffic flowing up and down the Foot Lake side of the park. The current road, a one-way loop around the park, will be closed to vehicle traffic for most of the year and turned into a walking and biking trail. It will be open to cars during the Celebrate the Light of the World Christmas light display between Thanksgiving and New Year's.
In all there will be an estimated 230 parking spots across the park in the new plan, an increase over what there is now. The old parking lots will be torn out and replaced with green space. Both boat launches will have paved parking for truck and trailers, along with spots for regular vehicles.
The two shelters, if built, will be simple, three-season varieties. One is tentatively to be located near the Foot Lake boat launch on the southwest side of the park, with the second on the northwest side of the park. The plan is to use the same color scheme and similar materials as the four-season shelter being constructed on the north side of the Foot Lake beach.
The Robbins Island subcommittee of the Invest in Willmar board worked for over a year on the project. They tweaked and refined ideas from the Mayor's Robbins Island Task Force. Mayor Marv Calvin thanked the subcommittee for its work on putting the plan together.
Even with the unanswered questions regarding the sales tax revenue and how to pay for the project, the council members wanted to at least approve the plans, as a sign of appreciation toward the subcommittee.
"So this group knows their work has been appreciated and we would like to move forward with what they have decided on," Schwantes said.