ROCHESTER — A $10 million aquatics expansion doubling the size of the pool at Soldiers Memorial Field. A project to add 2 acres to Silver Lake. More picnic areas, pickleball courts, trail connections and even space for Indigenous ceremonies.
That's only part of Rochester's plans to improve two of the city's premier parks.
City officials are preparing recommendations for Rochester's Parks and Recreation Board, as well as the Rochester City Council, to adopt over the next two months that could dramatically transform recreation space at Soldiers Memorial Field Park and Silver Lake Park.
At the same time, residents are pushing the city to adopt amenities that can't all fit in each park. Pickleball players, golfers, swim fans and people who just want to enjoy the outdoors are all lobbying for pet projects as Rochester tries to pin down future park plans.
"One of the biggest challenges in government is reconciling the vocal minority with the will of the majority," Deputy City Administrator Aaron Parrish said. "It's really that passion that drives some of the engagement."
The 10-year plans for Soldiers Field and Silver Lake come as city and Destination Medical Center (DMC) officials work to transform Rochester's downtown district into a global health hub during the next two decades.
Plans are underway for Discovery Walk — a four-block walk and bike path to Soldiers Field on the southwest side of downtown. And local officials see potential to connect Soldiers Field to Silver Lake northeast of downtown.
The parks will each add new features in the meantime. City staff could spend $18.5 million at Soldiers Field during the next three years, including $10 million in DMC funding.
That money would double the pool and aquatics area at Soldiers Field to about 70,000 to 80,000 square feet, respectively, in part to address ongoing complaints about a lack of places to swim in the area. Also planned are two new basketball courts, a new fitness circuit, new and renovated shelters, playgrounds and parking.
Rochester could also spend about $17.5 million on Silver Lake improvements, which would include renovating a skate park area and adding trail connections, trees, art installations, and more features depending on whether the city chooses to replace the pool at Silver Lake or remove the nearby dam. It could also include dedicating a southern portion of the park to the Dakota community for gatherings and ceremonies.
Further out, city staff recommend adding six pickleball courts at Soldiers Field, which pickleball players say isn't enough to serve burgeoning interest in the sport. They wanted 10 to 12 courts built to add to the dedicated courts at Cook Park, though city officials say courts are planned for several parks in the future.
While expanding the aquatics area at Soldiers Field would require making changes to a few of the park's 18-hole golf course, a long-term plan includes cutting the course down to nine holes, spurring concern among the city's golfers.
The course cuts would free up land for an arboretum, more grass space and another shelter, among other things.
Larry Mortensen, a former Parks and Recreation board president, decried the city's response to golf and potential cuts at Soldiers Field during a presentation he made to that board on Tuesday.
"The golf community deserves better support than what we have so far received," he said.
Several council members and Mayor Kim Norton support keeping the Soldiers Field Golf Course at 18 holes. During a meeting on Monday, council members cited the course's history and its draw for residents and tourists.
Yet Council Member Molly Dennis pointed out park enthusiasts she talks to aren't necessarily drawn to golf when they come to Soldiers Field.
"They come to the parks for places of belonging," she said. "They come for events and connection, so I think we need to make sure we keep green space available."