by Dennis Dalman
Three men have been named “Citizens of the Year” by the Sartell Area Chamber of Commerce for their years of hard work in bringing amenities to Pinecone Central Park.
The three were honored at the Chamber’s recent honors banquet at Blackberry Ridge Golf Course.
The Citizens of the Year are Paul J. Hanson, Gordy Meyer and Greg Neeser. Hanson is the owner of the Paul J. Hanson State Farm Insurance Agency in Sauk Rapids; Meyer is president and CEO of eBureau in St. Cloud; and Neeser is executive vice president for eBureau.
All three have had an enormous visionary impact in developing Pinecone Central Park, a 168-acre tract of land that used to be the privately owned Sartell Golf Course. The City of Sartell bought that land from its owner in 2008 for $3.4 million.
When the city purchased that land, it was considered by the city an investment in the future, something that could be developed bit by bit as money became available. However, those who founded the Pinecone Central Park Association thought, “Why not develop it now? Why wait? Why not have it for current families rather than wait for future families?”
Sartell City Administrator Mary Degiovanni said the association’s concept plan turned out to be better than the city’s initial plan for the park.
“And besides raising money, the association (members) did a ton of volunteer work, including laying sod,” Degiovanni said. “And they also operate and maintain that park.”
This summer, Degiovanni added, people will have a chance to see how Pinecone Central Park will have so many activities, including music and movies, for every taste. She said it could not have been possible without Hanson, Meyer, Neeser and so many others who were determined to make the new park a facility for “now,” as well as “tomorrow.”
From the very beginning, development of that park land was dependent on a public-private agreement between the city and the association. That is when Meyer, Neeser and Hanson and many other volunteers and fundraisers stepped forth. Together they formed the Pinecone Central Park Initiative and began to raise funds.
As the funds accrued, the city agreed to build a road running through the park, as well as a large parking lot.
In the meantime, plans were drawn up for the grading of the park, installation of baseball fields, soccer and football fields, all-purpose fields, a concession stand, bathroom facilities, picnic areas, walking-biking trails, an ice rink and warming house, a splash pad/pool-pond, horseshoe pits, playgrounds for children, an inline-skating park, sand volleyball and later even a dog park.
Many of those amenities, such as the baseball fields, have already been completed, and many more should reach completion this summer and next. It has been a massive undertaking, with extensive grading, seeding and sodding, fertilization and weed control, irrigation, electrical installations, putting in of storm pipes and basins, dugouts, fencing, safety netting, construction of scoreboards, landscaping, installation of walkways and construction of a center pavilion.
In the summer of 2013, there was a grand opening when Sartell hosted a baseball tournament that attracted teams from far and wide. This summer, there will be even more festivities and celebrations in the park as more projects move toward completion.
None of it would have been possible without the hands-on work and fundraising achievements of the Pinecone Central Park Initiative.
From the get-go, the PCPI worked very closely with city staff to propose and to refine plans for the amenities. It has been the most ambitious and successful public-private partnership in the city’s history.
For every year since the land was purchased in 2008, the PCPI set money-raising goals every year and raised – so far – well in excess of $1 million for the work-in-progress, including thousands of hours of volunteer work and many in-kind donations. That is why Neeser, Hanson and Meyer received such a rousing ovation as Citizens of the Year.