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November 21, 2019

10/12/2019 7:30:00 AM
Commission reviews Hodag Park master plan
Updated park design could be adopted by the end of the year
By River News Staff

Merrill may be known as the "city of parks" but the city of Rhinelander is making it known that its public recreational facilities are a priority as well. The same day as the city held an open house to unveil designs for improvements to Pioneer Park, the city planning commission received a status update on the Hodag Park redesign process.

JSD Professional Services and landscape architect Justin Frahm have been hired to create concept plans for both Pioneer and Hodag parks as well as Sarocka Park in the courthouse district.

Frahm met with the plan commission Oct. 1 to provide an update on the revision process.

"In our last presentation (in March), we had presented the concept plan and the kind of draft master plan for Hodag Park," Frahm explained.

Since then, the firm has received a lot of public input on its design, leading to additional revisions.

The next step is to finalize the master plan, which would include estimates for the various components that would be amended to the city's comprehensive plan, he said.

"The park is broken down into zones. We are then taking each of those zones and further refining each of those zones for the master plan," he explained.

According to the most recent update, the central area just north of the Little League fields would feature a pavilion and bandshell. Frahm recommended those structures be among the first built.

Additional docking facilities and fishing piers have been mentioned by the public as part of the input process and the design includes at least two more piers similar to the one next to the boat ramp.

Under an earlier draft of the plan, either tennis courts or skate park were to be located next to the Stafford Field concession building, but Frahm told the commission those amenities have been moved elsewhere to cut down on congestion.

The concept plan also includes a larger beach area with concessions, beach volleyball courts and an area for a large tent that could serve as a wedding venue, along with a smaller gazebo area that could play host to smaller ceremonies.

"Wedding and event space is one of the numerous comments that we had heard (from the public)," Frahm said.

The commission will play an important role in the process as it must approve the concept plan before it can be amended to the city's comprehensive plan, Frahm noted.

Also part of the plan was an extensive survey of the park.

"This was both a topographic and utility survey of the entire park," Frahm said. "This shows all of the contour typography. It shows all the public and private utilities, water, sanitary, storm, electric, gas and telephone and all of the structural improvements that are in the park. Each and every tree was also survey as part of the field survey."

He said the map that resulted from the survey will serve as guide as improvements are made to the park.

"This is a document that will serve as the construct for any future construction plans based on the master plan and those initiatives, the phasing and final initiatives that might come out of the master plan," he explained.

Frahm also showed the commissioners artist's renderings of how some of the features in the master plan might look.

"Perspective imagery kind of gives you an idea of what this will look like for some of the structures and use areas and zones," he said.

The central area is where the amphitheater and pavilion and playground would be situated.

"This is a very sizable amphitheater, it's still very much in concept form," Frahm said. "You can generally see the size and scale is fairly extensive."

He said it would fit nicely into the grade of the park and would serve as a location for major music and cultural events. While the rendering he provided was intended to serve as reference, the master plan would not be a construction document, so how the amphitheater looks if constructed could be different.

While there are decisions yet to be made, Frahm said the final plan for the new-look Hodag Park could be approved and adopted within the next few months.

"By the end of the year, you will have a master plan that will be approved and recommended by the commission and adopted by council," he said.

Included in the presentation was a timeline that would allow for the master plan to be approved at a December council meeting and what would need to happen between now and then to ensure that happens.

Mayor Chris Fredrickson asked how feedback and the further development of the Pioneer Park concept plan might affect the final Hodag Park master plan.

"How do we get the word out and how do you see that affecting your work product?" Frederickson asked.

"That's a great question," Frahm replied. "They are not mutually exclusive by any means."

As with the early stages of the Hodag Park planning, Frahm said he expects various users of Pioneer Park to send in comments and it may turn out that some features included the Hodag Park plan will fit better in Pioneer.

"Input from stakeholders was very helpful, and I'm actually seeing the same thing happen," he said. "But I think it's worth noting that decisions will get made, but I would encourage dialogue and a draft (master plan) in November to really put those decisions on the table."

He said he hopes to have the revised concept plan for Pioneer Park, and a more fleshed out draft master plan for Hodag Park, ready to present to the commission in November.

"That way, they can be looked at together," Frahm said.

"The ordinance that makes this part of the comprehensive plan... that becomes the law of the city in terms of any investments or improvements made at the park," city administrator Daniel Guild noted. "Any improvements and investments and projects any stakeholder groups would have to comply with the plan that was adopted. The implementation schedule, how fast the plan goes from vision to reality, is only limited by how fast the council applies resources to it."

Commission member George Kirby asked where the money to fund portions of the park's master plan would come from.

"Once the plan is adopted, that is the council's decision to invest zero to whatever amount it wants toward the implementation of the plan," Guild replied. "The plan could sit and lay fallow for a few years, the plan could never be financed. The plan could be financed right away. But once it is officially adopted, if there were any expenditures, investments or improvements made at the park in the future, it would have to comply with that plan."

Guild said that once financing, from the city, community or both, is secured for any of the components of the plan, an engineering firm could get involved to give the city firmer cost estimates.

"Remember when you are dealing with lots of different buildings, different trails and pieces of infrastructure, landscaping it doesn't make sense to plan out the costs until you know what you're costing," Guild said, adding that fundraising by stakeholder groups would most likely be a large component of the funding for some of the developments, but the city will have to do some of the prep work first.

As it's difficult to get donors excited about structures they're not sure they'll actually see, "the city usually takes the responsibility for ripping up the ground, putting in the water and the sewer, the electrical and all that stuff, and once the ground is there, everything can go on top of it," he said.

The latest version of the Hodag Park plan can be viewed on the city's website under the Master Plans/Project Plans tab.

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