Big plans, bigger wishes for Rochester’s top parks

ROCHESTER — A $10 million aquatic expansion that will double the size of the pool at Soldiers Memorial Field. A project to add 2 acres to Silver Lake. More picnic areas, pickleball courts, trail connections, and even space for indigenous ceremonies.

That’s just part of Rochester’s plans to improve two of the city’s main parks.

City officials are preparing recommendations for the Rochester Parks and Recreation Board, as well as the Rochester City Council, to adopt over the next two months that could dramatically transform recreation space at Soldiers Memorial Field Park and Silver Lake Park. .

At the same time, residents are pushing the city to adopt amenities that don’t all fit in every park. Pickleball players, golfers, swimmers and people who just want to enjoy the outdoors are lobbying for pet projects as Rochester tries to pin down the park’s future plans.

“One of the biggest challenges in government is reconciling the vocal minority with the will of the majority,” Deputy City Manager Aaron Parrish said. “It’s really that passion that drives part of the commitment.”

The 10-year plans for Soldiers Field and Silver Lake come as city and Destination Medical Center (DMC) officials work to transform Rochester’s downtown district into a global health hub over the next two decades.

Plans are underway for Discovery Walk, a four-block walking and biking trail to Soldiers Field on the southwest side of downtown. And local officials see potential to connect Soldiers Field to Silver Lake northeast of downtown.

In the meantime, each of the parks will add new features. City staff could spend $18.5 million on Soldiers Field over the next three years, including $10 million in DMC funds.

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That money would double the pool and aquatic area at Soldiers Field to about 70,000 and 80,000 square feet, respectively, in part to address ongoing complaints about a lack of swimming spots in the area. Two new basketball courts, a new fitness circuit, new and renovated shelters, playgrounds and parking lots are also planned.

Rochester could also spend about $17.5 million on Silver Lake improvements, which would include renovating a skate park area and adding trail connections, trees, art installations and more features depending on whether the city chooses to replace the pool. at Silver Lake or remove the nearby pool. prey. It could also include dedicating a southern portion of the park to the Dakota community for gatherings and ceremonies.

Going forward, city staff are recommending adding six pickleball courts at Soldiers Field, which pickleball players say isn’t enough to meet the growing interest in the sport. They wanted 10 to 12 courts built to add to the dedicated courts at Cook Park, though city officials say courts are planned for several parks in the future.

While expanding the water area at Soldiers Field would require changes to some of the park’s 18-hole golf courses, a long-term plan includes reducing the course to nine holes, raising concerns among city golfers.

The field cuts would free up land for an arboretum, more lawn space and another shelter, among other things.

Larry Mortensen, former chairman of the Parks and Recreation board, condemned the city’s response to golf and potential cuts at Soldiers Field during a presentation to that board Tuesday.

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“The golf community deserves better support than we have received so far,” he said.

Several council members and Mayor Kim Norton support keeping Soldiers Field at 18 holes. During a meeting Monday, council members discussed the course’s history and its appeal to residents and tourists.

However, Councilmember Molly Dennis noted that the park enthusiasts she speaks with aren’t necessarily drawn to golf when they come to Soldiers Field.

“They come to the parks looking for places to belong,” he said. “They come for events and connection, so I think we need to make sure we keep green space available.”

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