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New committee looks to ‘create a vision’ for Lake Okabena

WORTHINGTON -- A new committee will attempt to craft a comprehensive plan for the future of Lake Okabena. The main question it will ask: What do we want our lake to be? The Worthington City Council voted Tuesday to create the Lake Okabena Improve...

WORTHINGTON - A new committee will attempt to craft a comprehensive plan for the future of Lake Okabena.

The main question it will ask: What do we want our lake to be?

The Worthington City Council voted Tuesday to create the Lake Okabena Improvement Task Force. The committee, made up of council members Chad Cummings and Alan Oberloh as well as several community members, will attempt to identify the right projects for the lake and funding sources for the projects.

Jason Vote, president of the Lake Okabena Improvement Association and a member of the new committee, identified the half-cent sales tax as a funding source for potential projects.

What those projects are is somewhat up in the air - that’s what the committee is for - but Vote mentioned dredging as an option to alleviate the lake’s sediment surplus. Other ideas include a marina and a restaurant.

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The committee will try to be creative in finding money from alternative sources, such as grants or a bonding bill.

The council also approved up to $3,300 to help craft a presentation of the proposed library, community education and welcome center, which would be located on the former Campbell’s Soup property. The three interested entities - the city, Nobles County and District 518 - will spend up to $10,000 to create a presentation that tells the story of the collaborative project, in hopes of getting money for the project in a state bonding bill.

The project’s cost estimate of $26.3 million blew away the interested entities - to the point where grants or bonding money would be necessary to make the concept a reality. That amount doesn’t include an estimated $2 million in soil remediation, which is part of the reason why Oberloh said he wasn’t interested in the project. He noted that the Worthington Area Chamber of Commerce did not find the site to be a good fit for its operation.

In other news:

  • City Administrator Steve Robinson said the city sent its most recent purchase agreement for a movie theater to PBK Investments on Nov. 6. It has not yet been signed. PBK’s deadline is Dec. 31.
  • Robinson updated council on discussions he’s had with a sports bar developer from central Minnesota. The developers told Robinson they were concerned with the number of qualified employees in Worthington - an issue that may affect their decision.
  • Various entities are still talking about replacing the Nobles County Fairgrounds street - the project may now be paved in sections to address the worst part of the street by the entrance. The council has yet to decide how much it is willing to contribute. Council member Mike Harmon called the road an “embarrassment to the city. ”
  • Memorial Auditorium Director Tammy Makram said the auditorium will replace its seats next year with newer, wider seats. Wheelchair seating will also be installed.

As the new seats are four inches wider, the auditorium will go from 735 seats to 625. Makram said it wouldn’t be an issue, as it’s rare every single seat sells out.
Replacing every chair will cost an estimated $298,750. The city anticipates awarding the bid for the project in March, with construction beginning in June and wrapping up by August.

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