NEW RICHMOND -- The New Richmond City Council issued a rare invitation to elected officials of neighboring communities within the New Richmond School District to attend Government Entities Networking on Feb. 12, 2020.
More than 25 people attended the GEN meeting including representatives from the Richmond, Star Prairie and Stanton townships as well as the village of Star Prairie and the New Richmond Library.
The stated purpose was to solicit input on ideas and funding scenarios pertaining to a potential community-driven, multipurpose facility to be located within city limits.
The prospect of multiple independent fundraising campaigns looking to raise millions of dollars for the library, hockey association, high school stadium project, The Centre and others prompted the loose formation of a group of concerned citizens led by Town of Richmond resident and First National Community Bank President Tom Mews.
“First National Community Bank is a family-owned business. I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that there are millions of dollars of requests for grants. We’d have to shut down the bank. It’s so far over the line for a community of our size. It’s a wake-up call," he said. "Over a year ago we started getting some people together just to talk about donor fatigue that we’ve been feeling in New Richmond whether that’s on the personal side or a business side. We started to brainstorm around what we can do differently and how we come at that problem in a different way versus how we’ve been addressing it. I’ve been in this community for 19 years and it’s been about the same route. We’re all looking at individual silos and all going after the same donors for dollars to try to build what we need versus looking collectively.”
Mews has approached a number of the organizations looking to raise money including the New Richmond Library Board and The Centre to gauge whether they would consider joining their fundraising efforts in a collaborative approach that could result in construction of a single, large, multipurpose facility to address multiple community needs.
Mews estimates that collectively the various projects are looking to raise $20 million to $25 million over the next three to five years.
“Our feeling at this point in time is that if we try to do those individual projects on their own, they’ll all likely fail individually. But what we can do collectively is yet to be determined and that’s really where we stand to date,” Mews. said
He emphasized that this is a preliminary discussion and that the number of organizations and projects that might choose to collaborate is fluid.
According to Mews, so far The Centre and the Library Board have agreed to step back from their fundraising schedules to evaluate whether a collaborative approach better suits their and the community’s fundraising capacity/appetite.
School District Superintendent Patrick Olson spelled out the advantages of a collaborative approach starting with the passage of the largest school referendum in Wisconsin history, at the time, which has led to a district rated in the top 10% in the state.
He cited other initiatives that succeeded because of partnerships including the school resource officer, the SOAR Education Center, the Living Well Together Initiative and New Richmond Recreational Partnership.
“We couldn’t do a variety of things that we’ve accomplished in the last five years in isolation. If we want to see these things come to fruition, we’re going to have to work together, to support one another to get to that finish line because they’re all great projects,” said Olson.
Mews and Olson suggested that working together could enable the community as a whole to leverage more funding at the state level and also lead to more effective and successful grant applications.
Mews pointed to the Maple Grove Community Center in Minnesota as an example of a “build it and they will come” approach. A failed referendum led to a 50 acre development constructed with operating funds provided by the city and surrounding communities with a population of 100,000. The center was constructed in a phases as they could be afforded.
A multipurpose center would have the additional benefit of potentially making New Richmond a “destination” drawing families from Stillwater and other communities to the east of the Twin Cities. Culturally, a multipurpose center might unite seniors, veterans, athletes, readers and more by offering diverse, multi-generational programs and activities.
Alderman Mike Montello suggested a primary benefit would be to provide equal access to programs and activities for those who do not have the resources.
“My wife and I have been here 40 years. In the last number of years, and those of you that have been here a long time know this is true, the number of folks who don’t have the resources for I would say basic things has grown," he said. "I see this as an opportunity to increase the degree of service we provide to people. It’s not like we represent one socio-economic strata in our communities. This has the ability to serve those who really don’t have the resources available to them. This is a great opportunity to not only get some things done but to do something that serves the community in a way that we just don’t have the ability to right now.”
Future Walk Initiative interviewed hundreds of citizens within the school district seven years ago pertaining to gathering places. That data could be useful in the current discussion, people said.
The evening's discussion ended with next steps, starting with representatives from each community agreeing to initiate discussions in the next 30 days about the larger “why.” Why is a community center needed? Is it needed? What kinds of needs could it address? What kinds of facilities could be included?
The city offered to put together a fact sheet along with a list of frequently asked questions and make those available to each community to aid in their discussions.
The plan calls for the GEN group to meet in April to review the feedback from communities about the “Why.”
Echoing the sentiments of Future Walk seven years later, Mews said, “We can create our destiny or we can let it happen around us.”