Being a parks commissioner on the Parks and Recreation Commission (PRC) is an interesting position to hold. Compared to other commissions such as the Public Safety Advisory Commission (PSAC) and the …
Being a parks commissioner on the Parks and Recreation Commission (PRC) is an interesting position to hold. Compared to other commissions such as the Public Safety Advisory Commission (PSAC) and the Planning Commission, many of the topics covered by the PRC are not immediately needed to be sent to Hastings City Council. The items the PRC covers often take months of research by staff before the commission can make recommendations to council. That allows for more workshops out of the public eye, instead of official PRC meetings in the council chambers. Last week, a workshop for PRC was held at the Parks Department.
Commissioners gathered with Parks Director Chris Jenkins and Programming Specialist Paige Marschall Bigler to discuss where the PRC should focus on for 2023 and 2024. There were several topics discussed in the brainstorming session, including whether it’s time to look at the Park Plan that is part of the Hastings 2040 Master Plan document. The question of updating that plan came about because of the great ideas commissioners had around parks in Hastings. Here are some of the key ideas presented.
Organized Youth Sports (OYS). Neighborhood parks were never designed to support OYS. They were designed for the neighborhood kids to get together and play kickball, baseball, soccer, softball, frisbee, or whatever the kids decided to do. Having OYS on these kids of parks creates a number of minor issues. First, those neighborhood kids cannot randomly play a pickup game at the park if there is an OYS game going on. Second, the parking around these kinds of parks is very limited. They are really built for the families within half of a mile of the park to utilize, mostly by walking there. Third, the maintenance needs of the park increase with organizations using them for regular games or regular practice.
Neighborhood parks are spread all over town, which means hours of excessive driving by parks staff to maintain a different kind of playing surface for OYS.
Additionally, there are safety concerns, increased traffic, and bumper-to-bumper parked cars at the side of the park increase the chance of a child being hit. The excess use increases the opportunity for ancillary damage to houses nearby, along with the increased noise in the neighborhood. Yes, some people love that extra sound around their house, but some do not.
If Vets Park was scraped and rebuilt properly, all of the organized youth sports could easily be moved to a central complex. This would open the neighborhood parks to be redesigned in the future with a variety of new, unique features. The space that is currently mowed by parks staff could be cut down (pun intended) which would help reduce the carbon footprint and labor by not only mowing less but also driving less frequently to each park. Space for athletics at neighborhood parks would remain, but there could be less of it. That space could be converted to a pollinator-friendly space that would not get mowed. A park-like Pioneer Park could dramatically change to a destination park. Perhaps that is where the ADA-compliant park could go and other amenities like a splash pad and an exercise park could be added as well as an expanded playground and better parking.
Aside from pulling all the youth sports off the neighborhood parks, there are some benefits to hosting them all in one area like Vets. The city could again run concessions. The added revenue from the concessions stand could help offset a small portion of the costs of a new park, and it would give teens an opportunity for job experience.
Rebuilding the park would allow for a purpose-built maintenance facility for the park that could host all the needed equipment to properly maintain the park. That means no more trailering equipment to the park multiple times a week. Mowers could be set properly for athletic fields instead of the four-inch cuts made on all of the grass at every park.
It also allows for better, safer parking, including lit parking lots and more lit athletic fields which allows play later into the evening or more time earlier in the year when it still gets dark by 7 p.m. This also gives the various youth organizations in town opportunities to host more and bigger tournaments. Tournaments benefit many local businesses including restaurants, grocery and convenience stores, and hotels.
Another great amenity that could go out there is a sports dome. There are only a few in the region and having a dome here in Hastings would allow off-season turf sports to have a place for players to practice. It would also be usable by the school for early spring season sports to practice before the surrounding snow melts. Sports domes are often built to be financially self-supporting with other amenities inside like a cafeteria/concessions area and meeting or party rooms. A sports dome in Hastings simply makes sense as the closest three are Farmington, Rosemount, and West St. Paul.
The adult baseball field at Vets already hosts around 80 games a year. A new baseball stadium with a turf playing surface, a larger grandstand, and updated amenities could be in use significantly more, earlier in the year for high school sports and more frequently throughout the summer with additional tournaments and games. Hastings could more easily host more high school playoff games, Legion substate, Minnesota Baseball Association amateur baseball playoffs, and state tournaments. The opportunity to draw thousands of people from out of town at different times of the summer becomes astounding if Vets Park is done properly.
Vets Park should be the home of youth and adult baseball, softball, soccer, lacrosse, tennis, pickleball, flag football, and Little Raiders Football. It could even host Raider Cross Country meets, and Nordic Skiing meets if done properly. Vets Park could be one of the reasons that young couples decide to move their family to Hastings.
Organizations such as the Hastings Hawks, HFC United, and Hastings Youth Athletic Association have expressed a desire to help with updating Vets Park, but fundraising cannot start on their end until the pretty pictures are drawn as to what the park could look like. How many of each type of field? Which fields become turf-playing surfaces? What is the best layout?
The cost of designing a complex such as Vets Park is estimated to start around the $50,000 mark for the pretty picture. That picture includes all the technical pieces like sewer, water, electric, parking, buildings, fields, stands, playgrounds, and more. It also provides the starting point for how things fit in the space provided.
The included graphic shows three areas. Area 1 is roughly the current property that is available to be parkland. Area 2 was recently rezoned to Commercial / Industrial in an attempt by the city to attract a large-scale manufacturer, but it could be rezoned to park space. Area 3 is space currently owned by HEDRA and is targeted for the industrial park. The total space available to a remade Veterans Park athletic complex is roughly 110 acres between areas 1 and 2. The current field setup in area 1 occupies roughly 43 acres of the 110 total acres available. That means there is a lot of room for potential expansion.
All of this was discussed as “swinging for the fences” ideas, but the PRC believes that hitting a home run for Veterans Park offers a lot of upside for the other parks in Hastings as well as the community at large. The group expects to send a request to City Council at the next PRC meeting in April. The request looks to be a simple one: explore hiring a firm to draw up a plan to rebuild Veterans Park within the next year. To pay for the design and visualization tools for the park, use park dedication funds to do so. There may be other studies needed to show things like the economic impact of having a world-class athletic facility.
The park dedication fund is holding an estimated $1 million dollars that can be used for a variety of park needs around Hastings. That money comes from developers when they are building new properties in Hastings and there is no need for them to include a neighborhood park. A prime example is the new apartments going in by Terry’s Hardware. The apartments there are within half a mile of Cari Park, so rather than build a new park, they paid into the park dedication fund so that money can go to maintain or add onto the equipment at Cari Park or other parks around town.
Hastings currently has 37 parks, and creating a larger sports complex will affect each of the other 36 parks in Hastings in a positive way. The quicker the plan gets rolling, the better, especially with the surplus funds at the state level. Perhaps some of this project could be added to the state budget to help pay for some of the work.