An Open Letter to the Hutchinson Area

This is an open letter to the Hutchinson City Council and all residents and organizations in the Hutchinson area from Jason Werowinski, the organizer of Positively Hutchinson and a resident of Hutchinson Township.

Background

The City of Hutchinson is researching building a new outdoor aquatic center in Hutchinson with the goal of having it operational by 2014. Our group, Positively Hutchinson, would like the city to consider starting the process to build a new Community and Recreation Center in Hutchinson, instead of the outdoor center. Besides the obvious benefits of both projects, one of the key discussion points is that a chunk of the funds for the outdoor pool come from the remainder of $2 million in funds the city received from the Hospital and Clinic merger.

The Merger Funds

The City of Hutchinson received $2 million from the recent merger of the Hutchinson Hospital and the Clinic. These funds came with a stipulation that they must be spent on wellness. The city has approved spending approximately $650,000 of these funds on the paving of the Luce Line trail (with an additional $100,000 coming from the Hutchinson EDA). That leaves approximately $1.35 million that could be spent on wellness in Hutchinson.

The Outdoor Pool/Family Aquatic Center

The outdoor pool in Hutchinson was built in the early 1980's. When it opened, it was drawing about 30,000 people per summer. Now it draws about 10,000-12,000 per summer. The current outdoor pool is profitable, perhaps modestly. The Hutchinson Parks, Recreation, and Community Education Department provided a price to the city in 2000 for a new/improved outdoor pool/aquatic center. At that time, the cost would have been $1.8 million.

The City Council and most residents agree it would be nice to have a better outdoor aquatic center in town. The City Council believes that now is a good time to start this project. A rough cost estimate (the city is currently getting some estimates) would be that this would cost about $3 million today. The city would use the remaining $1.35 million from the merger as the basis for this project. Further funding would be a mix of public and private, with potential use of bonds, tax increases, donations from organizations like HutchHealth, Citizen's Bank, the Hutchinson Utilities Commission and more.

The city is expecting that this project will help retain Hutchinson residents going to other outdoor aquatic centers and pull in others from surrounding communities. For sure there will be some visitors from the surrounding areas, but the numbers need to be examined very closely. There are a number of existing or planned outdoor aquatic centers already within 20 miles of Hutchinson.

The outdoor aquatic center would only be open about 3 months a year, a limited time. The outdoor aquatic center has great support from the people that may use it, but this is a limited population. Not everyone likes to swim.

The outdoor aquatic center plan is commendable, but it seems like the project is of limited value to a limited population for a limited time.

Creating Something Larger For The Whole Community - Community and Rec Center

The City of Hutchinson currently has a recreation center that was built in the 1980's. For the most part, the center consists of several gyms and locker rooms. The center does get a fair amount of use between leagues, tournaments, community education and more.

The community and recreation center we are envisioning is quite different from the recreation center in Hutchinson today. This center would be open year round and have amenities for people with different interests. We would like to see a community center that's accessible for people of all ages in Hutchinson with potential amenities like:

  • An indoor walking/running track
  • An indoor pool/small waterpark
  • An indoor play facility for children
  • A childcare area for smaller children
  • A fitness area including cardio equipment and weights
  • One or more gyms that can be configured for cross functional sports
  • Some dedicated fitness classrooms for classes
  • Available meeting space for community organizations

It's hard to imagine a facility like this unless you've been in a community that has such a facility. We've heard from so many people who were in towns when a center like this was built. They talk about the many positive effects on the community from population growth to improvements in community athletics.

Other communities like Hutchinson have built facilities similar to this. Sometimes they are city owned and operated. In other cases they may be built and managed privately by organizations like the YMCA, JCC, or Salvation Army. There are great examples out there of a public/private mix like the Maple Grove Community Center, which has a Lifetime Fitness built into it.

Although the true purpose of the center would be to serve the community first and foremost, there is a great of potential to capitalize on the draw of such a center in Hutchinson. For example, there is no indoor facility like this within 35 miles of Hutchinson. We already know that Hutchinson is a hub for many surrounding areas, imagine tapping into these folks that may be going to Waconia, Willmar or Alexandria for a center like this. Don't forget about retaining the existing citizens that are currently leaving town to go to these facilities. Furthermore, Hutchinson currently has a boosted sales tax in effect. The more people we can get to Hutchinson to spend their money, the higher that sales tax revenue will be. We can maximize the draw by studying the best amenities that will draw people town and the surrounding areas.

Quality of Life and Economic Development

The Hutchinson EDA spends a fair amount of time and money trying to recruit the next 3M to Hutchinson. Almost every other sizable city in Minnesota and the United States does the same thing. Often times, these companies go for the best package of tax breaks, financing, location, workforce and community infrastructure. Can Hutchinson compete strictly on these criteria?

Instead of focusing on bringing companies and jobs to our community through shovel ready this and angel network that (like every other city), let's focus on our community, first. Instead of spending thousands shouting from the highest mountain that we are "Minnesota's Manufacturing City", let's get organic statewide media coverage about our different approach to improving the economic development prospects of our community by literally improving our community.

The Hutchinson EDA has been taking some good actions here, by financially supporting projects like the Luce Line paving and the Fishing Pier project. These are great improvements, but they aren't necessarily on the scale of major quality of life improvements for the whole community since they serve a limited population. We need to improve the quality of life for the widest population of residents that are here today by building a new community and recreation center. By improving the quality of life in town, we also improve our chances at being an attractive area for businesses to come and grow.

The Final Thought

We understand that the cost for such a facility is higher than an outdoor aquatic center, perhaps near $9 million. We are also aware it can't be completed as quickly as the outdoor project. Our goal is to fund this project, WITHOUT RAISING TAXES. We would do this by working together with public and private groups like the City, the EDA, HutchHealth, 3M, the Hutchinson School District and other private individuals and businesses. Fundraising is the key here. We would like to establish and kick off the project with the remaining $1.35 million from the city.

Call To Action

We would like to open discussions on this subject as soon as possible. We are planning a community meeting soon to open discussions. In the meantime, you can write your City Council.

Thanks for your time and interest in making the future of the City of Hutchinson AMAZING!
Jason Werowinski
(320) 296-6383