Buoyed by a $6 million grant from this year's state bonding bill, Stillwater plans to move ahead with long-hoped-for riverfront parks on either end of downtown.
The parks would bookend the city's property along the St. Croix River, offering an easy place to slip a canoe into the water, wet a fishing line or lay out a picnic blanket with less noise and crowds than the often-bustling stretch of riverfront known as Lowell Park.
"It's time to get them developed and built," said City Council Member Mike Polehna.
The parks are still in the early planning stages, Polehna said, but the council directed city staff at Tuesday's council meeting to begin laying out project timelines and priorities for Lumberjack Landing on the north end of downtown and Bridgeview Park to the south. The grant also provides $500,000 to renovate the Lowell Park gazebo.
The state's boost to riverfront park development comes after years of planning and negotiations, including those that started more than a decade ago for the Lumberjack Landing property. Known then as the Aiple property, the 15-acre riverfront stretch was the private residence of Elayne Aiple, who died in 2015.
Aiple sold the land to Washington County for $4.3 million in 2014, with funding cobbled together from several sources. The county conveyed the property to Stillwater in 2017.
City Administrator Joe Kohlmann sketched out a pair of scenarios for Lumberjack Landing, showing the state money could cover a spur trail to the Brown's Creek State Trail, which runs adjacent to the property; a river edge walk; a canoe launch with a dock; a parking lot; a picnic shelter; and shoreline stabilization and management.
The largest single item is the renovation of the split-level Aiple house, which sits within yards of the river's edge and commands sweeping views up and down the St. Croix. It's being considered for restrooms, public space, canoe rentals or even storage of rowing sculls for a local rowing club.
The city could use $1.3 million of the bonding money on the renovations, early estimates show, but Kohlmann said figures are still coming together. The city also has a $1 million donation for renovation of the Aiple house from Geri Freels, who spent years boating on the St. Croix River with her husband and wanted to help Stillwater build a park where others could enjoy river access.
The city park to the south, Bridgeview Park, sparked a brief conversation about historic preservation and future development after council members said one of two historic buildings on the site may not be worth keeping.
The Moritz Bergstein Shoddy Mill and Warehouse were pieces of a recycling business run by Jewish German immigrant Moritz Bergstein, who died in 1923. The buildings — one wooden structure and one made of stone — were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2008 as rare reminders of early Jewish settlers in Minnesota. The state Department of Transportation moved the buildings, originally in Oak Park Heights, to 805 S. Main St. at a cost of $1.2 million to make way for the St. Croix Crossing bridge.
Saying he didn't see much value in the wooden building, Mayor Ted Kozlowski directed Public Works Supervisor Shawn Sanders to inquire about having it taken off the register.
Explaining the city's position in a phone call Thursday, Kozlowski said the stone structure should be preserved, but the wooden structure would need Americans with Disabilities Act and sprinkler updates, along with renovations, before it could be made useful.
"If there truly is a value to the historic structure, if there's some elements that are worth saving, I would be all ears," Kozlowski said. "I haven't heard anything specific to the wooden building … I can't imagine putting a million dollars into it."