Riverside Park vision goes beyond amphitheater


Princeton’s unsuccessful attempt last year to get a Minnesota Legacy grant to begin building an amphitheater in Princeton’s Riverside Park has forced a major revision in the second application submitted late this year for the grant.

The application this time was designed with advice from people involved with awarding the money. The major change was having the application include a plan for making overall improvements at the park, rather than just focusing on building an amphitheater there.

As a result, the new application is for a $722,115 grant and  lists plans to:

• Build a footbridge over the Rum River. A trail would be built from the end of the footbridge on the east side of the river to go to nearby Riebe Park.

• Upgrade the RV campsites.

• Install electricity and lighting at the picnic shelter and reroof it.

• Demolish the restrooms and build new handicap accessible restrooms with showers and place the restrooms above the floodplain. (The park, which is located along the Rum River and its West Branch, is prone to flooding during high water times.)

• Complete miscellaneous improvements, such as installing new picnic tables, planters, educational monuments, new signs and landscaping.

• Construct a biking and hiking trail along part of Fourth Avenue, not far from the Rum River.

As part of constructing the amphitheater, the hill that sits in the center of the park and which was built a few decades ago for a well house is to be removed.

Phase I of the amphitheater project, which the current grant application is for, would move dirt at the park to build up the seating area for the amphitheater.

The City Council on Oct. 10 passed a motion to authorize $50,000 out of the $90,000 city tax increment financing surplus fund to be set aside as a match for a Legacy grant in the event the grant is approved.

Part of excavation work to build up an area for the amphitheater seating will require relocating a city water main within Riverside Park. Princeton Public Utilities will not be bearing any of that cost, since the amphitheater is not a PPU project.

The major forces behind the amphitheater and other improvements at the park is the Princeton Area Visionary Committee, whose president is downtown business owner Carol Ossell. She has long championed the idea that major recreational attractions in the town will strengthen Princeton, especially its downtown. Much of the north end of the downtown, in fact, sits up against Riverside Park. The visionary committee has been working with Princeton Economic Development Director Carie Fuhrman in seeking grant money for the park improvements.

Decision at the picnic shelter

Ossell recalled the meeting one early evening in August at the Riverside Park picnic shelter in which she and fellow visionary committee member Scott Suhsen, as well as someone from Public Works and a few others, talked about the failed first attempt at the Legacy grant. The question the group debated was what pieces are needed for improving Riverside Park that should be detailed in the new Legacy grant application.

The present improvement plan for the park came out of that discussion, including the need to enlarge the park’s paved pads that the RVs park on during camping season. Someone at the meeting observed that drivers of the bigger RVs find it difficult to maneuver onto the pads because of their size.

Attention was also turned to the park’s restrooms, which Ossell called “horrendous,” and Suhsen called “old and worn.” Suhsen said the comprehensive plan for Riverside Park that is in the newest application for a Legacy grant addresses needs at the park.

This “full-blown project” that is envisioned for Riverside Park is “palatable” to the people who will act on the application and also to the community, Suhsen added.

One question that Suhsen said he has often gotten about the proposed amphitheater is how flooding of the park will affect the structure. Suhsen said the planned elevations for the amphitheater will be above the 100-year flood level. Further, if a 500-year flood should come along, the materials in the amphitheater will be such that maintenance people need only wash them down to clean.

The grant application also lists planned revenue resources. They include grants for construction, naming rights, donations toward the limestone amphitheater seats, rental fees, ticket sales, concessions, sponsorships and help from a nonprofit support group. The grant application states that the amphitheater could be used for weddings, outdoor receptions, reunions, school and church events, performances and more.

Looking ahead

“I was devastated last year after not receiving any money,” Ossell said about the first grant application being rejected. “I was in tears.”

Ossell said she had been hoping for a half million dollars through a Legacy grant and the same amount from the Otto Bremer Foundation, and neither happened.

But Ossell said she also learned some patience after talking with Robin Suhsen, who was one of the group members who worked for about seven years to get enough funding to build the Princeton Area Library that opened in 1995.

Ossell indicated that there has never been any doubt about her “passion” for building an amphitheater at Riverside Park. She said that when someone commented about that, she answered that her “heart is here” in Princeton. She added that she “learned from the best” about what she should do for Princeton, naming her mother, the late Imogene Sommer, and Ossell’s late parents-in-law, Louise and Vic Ossell.

“They taught me to stand up for this community,” Ossell said.

Scott Suhsen sounded confident about the proposed improvements at Riverside Park happening.

“It’s when, not if, they will occur,” he said.

“The only thing that will stop their progress is if a few of the people strongly working on this get burned out and have to quit,” he added. “They still have a lot of energy.”