Marina plan charts unexpected course

City will explore private ownership for proposed Lakeside Park facility


More information needs to be gathered before the city of Forest Lake dives headfirst into a plan to bring a marina to Lakeside Memorial Park, the Economic Development Authority decided Monday night.

The seven-member board has voiced support for the idea and recently approved spending several thousand dollars to flesh out detailed plans regarding a 24-slip, city-owned facility on the north end of the downtown park. At the EDA meeting this week, however, concerns from two board members regarding the process to date charted discussion on an unforeseen course – the city will now put out to private companies requests for proposals for the construction and/or management of the marina.

The interest in a privately run facility is more of a feeler than a consensus at this point, but the concept generated enough interest that the board at least tapped the brake on a project which had been quickly accelerating.

Blake Roberts stemmed the course of discussion by wondering whether enough public input had been gathered to move on with the approval of $9,300 to finalize a bid package.

“I think we’re a little bit ahead of the game here,” he said.

“I’ve talked to some people and the majority think it’s great, I’ve heard a couple people say it’s crazy, the city shouldn’t be in the marina business if they can’t handle what they’re doing now properly. They’re worried about traffic on the lake…It’d be nice to get more feedback from residents on whether they want this.”

Mayor and EDA president Chris Johnson said he has heard only positive feedback and that he has talked to the owner of Timm’s Marina on the south end of Forest Lake, who is not opposed to it.

Board member Jackie McNamara agreed that public response has been generally positive, but she felt feedback has regarded only the concept as a whole and not details such as operation.

“I’ve heard a lot of people say that cities and government don’t belong in private business,” she said. “I think we keep going forward and we’ve had this discussion but we’ve really not made a decision on what direction we’re going to go with the ownership or management of the marina.”

Johnson said he has always envisioned the marina starting as a municipal entity which the city could decide to sell depending on future growth.

“Just my own thought was that this was kind of putting a toe in the water, so to speak,” he said. “A 24-slip marina is just a start to get it out there, see how it goes, what kind of demand we see, then if it looks like it’s viable, opening it up privately as it expands to see what it turns into.”

City Administrator Aaron Parrish questioned whether such a small facility would draw private interest at this point, but Johnson was open to seeing what response the city gets and directed Parrish to send out RFPs.

“At a minimum it will probably help lead us to the right vendor or the right system or whatever, kind of let other people do some of the work,” said board member Mike Muske. “We’ll learn something.”