— After being delayed for a month due to weather, a ribbon-cutting ceremony finally took place Wednesday, Jan. 18, for the nearly $10 million
Events and Recreation Center
Willmar Civic Center
, which officially opened Nov. 21, 2022.
This was the fourth project completed that was funded by the local option sales tax that Willmar voters approved by 60% in November 2018 and by the Minnesota Legislature in October 2019.
"Most communities don't have things like this," said Willmar City Councilor Justin Ask at the ceremony. "The citizens of Willmar should be proud today for what we've done here. We have invested not just in ourselves, not just in our future, but we've invested in our community, we've invested in our neighbors, we've invested in each other. This beautiful, wonderful space is going to be a place where our community gathers for years into the future and is going to prove that we are better together."
Former Mayor Marv Calvin reminded people who attended the ceremony that this came about due to a failed Willmar Public School District referendum to build something similar, and the
Invest in Willmar
group decided it was something Willmar really needed and began moving forward with a plan to bring it to fruition.
"I want to thank the citizens of Willmar who believed in our vision and overwhelmingly supported that vote at over 60% and realized the vision that the four of us had playing cards in a house in 2017, saying that we can do this, we can do this in Willmar," said Tony Amon, who co-chaired the Recreation Fields subcommittee. "Invest in Willmar believed a city our size has amenities that we deserve."
He noted the goal was to build a community in which future generations want to come back to live for future growth and that companies say, "Look what they are doing in Willmar."
"We had a lot of really good people who did a lot of really great work," Calvin said, thanking the team from
, the people from Invest in Willmar and the city staff.
Taylor Marcus of Marcus Construction, which was the contractor for the Events and Recreation Center and the turf fields, recognized the key people and groups that helped to make the projects possible, including the subcommittees, the project and design teams, and the 72 different contractors and workers that helped complete the projects — most of whom were from Minnesota and local to the area.
"These two projects were unique as our team managed through a pandemic, through supply chain issues, through cost escalations — but what's construction without challenges, and that's something that we love to do," Marcus said, noting that those managing the project helped to deliver the projects safely and under budget.
"We're proud to be community builders. We're excited about what the future holds for the city of Willmar," he added. "I can't wait to see the opportunities for people to gather and for kids to play, and these facilities are going to create awesome opportunities for our people and our kids."
Chris Laabs, project and associate architect with
, spoke for the design team, noting that the Events and Recreation Center would be the first impression of Willmar and "we wanted it to be a really great one. More importantly, this is a center for people who already love Willmar, who are here."
He stated the Events and Recreation Center offered the city of Willmar to expand its offerings for indoor recreation, including basketball, volleyball and "everyone's new favorite, pickleball," as well as providing space for conferences and other events to come into the city.
"We really believe that this project is a great value for the people of Willmar and will be for years to come," Laabs continued after stating that construction was in a "scary spot" when the project started with inflation and supply chain issues, but only half the contingency money set aside for surprises needed to be used.
The chair of the Events and Recreation Center subcommittee Gretchen Otness also spoke at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. "It is incredibly exciting to see this project come to fruition, and it really was a privilege to lead the committee. This project was a labor of love, and, as you all know, many, many years in the making. From its inception to now, it certainly didn't come without its challenges, as have already kind of been talked about."
Calvin and Marcus both praised Parks and Recreation Director Rob Baumgarn for the time and leadership he provided to complete all the Invest in Willmar projects, which included the Events and Recreation Center, improvements at
Robbins Island Regional Park
, the turf fields at the Civic Center and improvements at Swansson Field.
"Rob was an integral piece in all of these Ic projects, because they all come under recreation," Calvin said, noting Baumgarn was unable to be at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. "When you get a chance, please thank Rob for the work that he has put into this. He's put in hundreds of hours above his normal job to make this happen."
Marcus said Baumgarn "cares about these projects deeply" and spent many hours working with the team from Marcus Construction and the design teams to make sure the projects were completed in the way in which they were envisioned.