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A long-planned demolition of the shuttered power plant in Austin, Minn., got underway last week as crews prepared the site for a future YMCA recreation center.

The Austin Municipal Plant closed in 2009, and its 7-acre, center-of-town site along the Cedar River was re-imagined as various things before the rec center plan took hold.

Mayor Tom Stiehm said the planning has been going on for so long that some locals may be surprised to see work crews on the site this week knocking down walls.

“It’s exciting,” he said.

The recreation center, with an anticipated completion date of fall 2019, will anchor further redevelopment plans for that portion of the city and serve as a key piece of Vision 2020, a planning effort that’s driving a variety of plans for Austin’s future.

Opposition to the rec center plan included a movement to restore the original power plant and convert it into a business or living space, but those plans never won enough support, said Matt Cano, a co-chair of the Community Recreation Center committee for Vision 2020.

“It was simply not within budget to do that,” Cano said.

Almost all of the power plant will be swept away, except for a pumping station and a water reservoir needed for now for the city’s water system, said Mark Nibaur, Austin Utilities’ general manager.

The old red neon sign that reads “Austin Municipal Plant” has already been removed, restored with LED lights and installed at the administrative offices of Austin Utilities, Nibaur added.

Demolition of the plant’s smokestacks will take place in a month or two, most likely with crews cutting and then lowering them to the ground with a crane, said Nibaur.

Demolition crews will wrap up by July 1 and turn the site over to McGough Construction, which will build the new rec center.

The project’s $35 million cost will be paid for with a $25 million grant from the Hormel Foundation, $5 million from Hormel and another $5 million raised from private donations.

The new rec center will have a gymnasium, running track, swimming pools, an event space, youth activity areas, fitness studios, a wellness center and other features. It will be about 20,000 square feet larger than the existing 60,000-square-feet Austin YMCA.

Nearly 30 sites were considered for the recreation center, according to Vision 2020 planning documents.

@_mattmckinney