Council members are enthusiastic
Although pretty much everyone seated in the city hall council chambers at Monday evening's Ways & Means Committee meeting that followed a brief council meeting spoke enthusiastically in favor of a proposed 50 to 60-unit RV park and campground that would be located in Castle Park, everyone also agreed that Crookston residents, especially lose living in Ward 1 near Castle Park, likely have questions and concerns.
The first chance they'll have to voice those concerns will be on Monday, April 21 at 7 p.m. in the council chambers. Ward 1 Council Member Tom Jorgens said that although ward 1 residents are the target audience, anyone who wants to hear more about the project is welcome to attend and speak up if they wish.
The meeting has been scheduled in particularly rapid fashion because, CHEDA Executive Director Craig Hoiseth said, "if something is going to happen by mid-August I think ward 1 residents and other citizens need to be engaged by next week."
Jorgens said he's spoken to some of his constituents and they have a lot of questions and concerns. "I assured them we'd provide them with an opportunity to learn about the project and express any concerns they might have," he said. "I think people will see some of the advantages once we have an opportunity to discuss it. People need to have an opportunity to get comfortable with it."
Council members on the committee Monday evening unanimously approved a motion giving Hoiseth and any other city staff the go-ahead to keep working on putting the deal together. City Administrator Shannon Stassen stressed that it was just a simple vote to allow the process to continue, and that he wasn't yet looking for any votes to actually approve the project.
City leaders for years have been looking to move the city's primary RV park and campground from flood-prone Central Park, and Castle Park has long been the desired new location. The city has applied three times for a six-figure state grant to bring a campground and other amenities to Castle park, and has been denied each time. Parks & Recreation Director Scott Riopelle said that during the last round of grants, more than $40 million in requests was received, but only around $6 million was available to award.
Bringing a campground with water and sewer and electricity hook-ups to Castle Park is expected to cost at least $400,000. "We just don't have that kind of money," At Large Council Member Bob Quanrud said Monday. "And then you have to staff it and maintain it after it's open," added Ward 6 Council Member Tom Vedbraaten.
But it wouldn't cost the city much at all, if anything, if a private developer and local business partnered to make the RV park and campground happen, and that's precisely what's accelerated the proposed project.
American Crystal Sugar has an increased need for seasonal workers who work during the harvest from late summer into fall, and Stassen said the need is getting tougher to meet, possibly because of the lure of high-paying oil patch jobs in western North Dakota. As a result, he explained, a new breed of professional, traveling worker has arisen, and cities home to ACS factories throughout the Red River Valley are trying to accommodate them with similar RV parks.
"These are professional folks who travel the country, often with their wives and families, and they put up some pretty nice RVs," Stassen explained. "The need for these types of workers has really increased in recent years."
Hoiseth said ACS officials approached the city many months ago and "we've been shaking the bushes ever since." As a result, a private developer who operates a "professional, successful" RV park in another ACS town, Hillsboro, N.D., wants to put something similar in Castle Park. The developer and ACS would provide the financing, and the developer would manage and maintain the RV park once it's up and running.
In order to do so, the city would have to sell or otherwise convey three acres of land to the developer, and another adjacent landowner would have to sell around 2.5 acres. A park five to six acres in size would accommodate 50 to 60 RV slots.
The timing, as far as use of the campground, Stassen said, also seems to be ideal, with more traditional tourist campers and RV enthusiasts being the primary users for most of the summer, with the campground then starting to transition to the RV park for traveling workers.
"This is an amenity we have been trying to get for many years, and now we can get it and it can meet another need, too," Stassen said.
"We should go forward with this; it's a plus for the whole community," Vedbraaten added. "It could lead to more improvements in the trails along the river."
If the RV park/campground becomes reality, Riopelle said the city would still pursue the state grant, but would likely fine-tune its focus toward trail enhancements in the woods near the river.
Mayor Dave Genereux added that the city wouldn't immediately abandon Central Park as a campground, either, but he said the city has long been hesitant to invest a lot of money there because Central Park floods almost every spring.
Finance Director Angel Hoeffner said the city took in approximately $7,000 in revenue from the Central Park campground in 2013.