PROGRESS: Construction workers pouring cement on May 11 for part of the remainder of Phase I of the Downtown Riverfront Project. 

In a stunning development at the May 11 regular session of the Fergus Falls City Council, it was learned that due to rising project and material costs, Phase II of the Downtown Riverfront Project could look much different going forward because of a projected $3 million gap in funding.

This could mean that there may no longer be a splash pad or pedestrian bridge, both of which would have been included in the original Phase II design plans.

The Fergus Falls community showed up in force in voting to receive splash pad equipment through a Kiwanis International organization contest; however, another community was ultimately selected to receive the equipment.

Kent Louwagie with Bolton and Menk said bids were accepted for Phase II on Apr. 27, and they only received only one bid with the amount of the bid being just under $5 million. The original estimate for the same work was at $2.6 million, which would leave an enormous shortfall and headache for the city in the much-anticipated Downtown Riverfront Project.

After Louwagie’s presentation, Fergus Falls Mayor Ben Schierer expressed his frustration with the situation.

“It’s unfortunate that the bids came in where they did but, I guess that’s out of our control. We need to deal with things the way they are, not the way we wish they were,” he stated.

The reduced scope for Phase II would entail a continuation of the regional trail up to and including the pedestrian bridge. The remaining scope of work, consisting of the splash pad, restroom, plaza spaces and parking lot improvements, could be constructed as a future phase.

According to Louwagie this would include construction of the Phase II trail from the Mill Street Bridge, eastward to the proposed bridge location. The alignment of the trail would remain as designed so that the current design for the remaining site improvements is still viable. Water, sanitary sewer and storm sewer utilities would be installed in areas where the trail would be constructed, to minimize any rework if the full scope of the project would occur at a future date. Total estimated project cost under the reduced scope would be $818,000.

Council member Jim Fish asked Louwagie with Bolton and Menk if the reduced scope included the bridge. Louwagie responded with the affirmative, to which Fish stated that if that was the case he would not support it.

Council member Jim Fish asked Louwagie with Bolton and Menk if the reduced scope included the bridge. Louwagie responded with the affirmative, to which Fish stated that if that was the case he would not support it.

Bolton and Menk stated in a memo that this could result in minimal or no work being completed this year, but it would allow bidders some flexibility in their scheduling. They also stated that the pedestrian bridge, if included under a reduced scope, could follow the previously discussed schedule which would seek bids in the fall, with proposed construction happening in 2023. The total estimated project cost for the bridge, after adjusting to accommodate the changes, is estimated at $857,000. The total estimated cost for the trail and the bridge together is $1,675,000.

“Personally I like the reduced scope that’s been presented by the project design team for two reasons,” explained Schierer, stating that the changes allow the city to move forward with something during this construction season and complete the trail, which was the original intent of the project that started five years ago. “I do think we need to move forward quickly,” he stressed. “We have the bidding documents and I don’t know why we would wait on anything if the council decides to go with the reduced scope. There’s so many unknowns in the world and we have the bids to move forward.”

Council Member Anthony Hicks, who has previously voiced his opposition to various aspects of the overall project, said it should be an all or nothing situation.

“What makes you think it’s going to get any cheaper going forward?” he asked. “All the bids I’m seeing from my work — nothing indicates that it’s not going to get any less and I think spending potentially spending $1.5 million on a pavement that goes halfway across a parking lot to the river doesn’t make any sense. I think you’d rather do it all or you don’t do any of it.”

Hicks stated that the project is a waste of money and that the actual riverwalk isn’t getting touched. “That’s the nicest part of it, being down there by the river. So I think you should do it all or none of it,” he expressed.

Council member Scott Kwamme remarked that the council needs to know all the options going forward.

“We haven’t been presented with any options on how we might fill the funding gap. If we were to follow Anthony’s suggestion and go ahead and do it all, is there a way that we could fund it? There’s been a package put together to fund what we were expecting and now we need more money if we’re going to do it all, so let’s look at a way we might be able to fund it. I think that’s an alternative we need to consider, so we can’t say we tried to find a way to do it if we can’t find a way to fund it,” said Kwamme.

Schierer said he would like to see the project move forward in some form.

“We’re talking about a $3 million gap. From my perspective, these prices of what we intended to do originally are way out of whack. We’re trying to make a project that includes the original scope where we tried to have the trail connect all the way up to Veterans Park with a bridge that was put in that was planned as part of community meetings for this entire project. We’ve raised money, we’ve got $2 million committed, of that $1 million of it is bonding dollars. The $3 million gap would presumably have to go onto the taxpayers,” said Schierer.

Hicks then asked what the real price of the project was — the bottom line. City engineer, Brian Yavarow, stated that the base price was $4.9 million, excluding other enhancements.

Council member Fish inquired about the private funding that has already been pledged, specifically charitable trust money that was donated for the pedestrian bridge. He declared that they needed clarity on if that money could be used for another part of the project before making any decisions moving forward.

Hicks questioned if certain donors would still be willing to participate if the scope of the project changed, wondering if donors expecting that their funds were going to a splash pad and a bridge would pull back funding if those elements were to be excluded from the project.

Schierer said the council would revisit the issue at the Monday, May 16 regular meeting with other possible scenarios, including the whole project that was bid, as well as additional discussion after looking more extensively at the numbers.

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