City of Elk River: Cal Portner

A century after the commencement of the Roaring Twenties, a decade of economic prosperity and cultural growth in America, the Twenty Twenties look to be an exciting time for residents, businesses, and visitors of Elk River. Following years of council and commission discussions, staff and community planning, task force studies, and legislative lobbying, 2020 will begin to show the fruits of many labors as nearly a half billion dollars of state, county, school district and city investments are planned for our community over the next few years. Much of this work begins this year.

These improvements will increase our mobility, enhance our recreation facilities, enrich our leisure experiences, and mindfully plan our next era of growth.

The overwhelming commitment by Elk River residents to Active Elk River, as demonstrated by 65% of voters supporting a local option sales tax to fund $35 million in recreation improvements, is quickly taking shape. By fall we expect to welcome visitors to our center of community leisure and recreation, a nearly 150,000 square foot multipurpose facility with community meeting and banquet rooms, exhibition/event opportunities, senior citizen programming, modern skating and hockey facilities, commercial lease space and a synthetic turf field house. Across School Street, Lion John Weicht Park will see grass grow this spring on two new softball fields and an enhanced picnic area with pavilions, modern restrooms and green space to recreate.

By spring, the Youth Athletic Complex will have lighted ballfields followed by a playground, enhanced storage and concessions and modern restrooms. Spring will also kick off the planning and design for Orono Park improvements that include beach and parking expansion, a splash pad, skateboard park, pickleball and basketball courts and modern restrooms. This planning will set the stage for bidding and construction in 2021. In fall, we anticipate a temporary drawdown of Lake Orono in preparation for its winter freeze and dredging project. The first phases of trail connections will also be added in 2020, leveraging additional state grant funds concurrently with allocated funds from Active Elk River.

Another project will begin at Woodland Trails Regional Park where state grant funds and matching city funds will finance a nature activity area, picnic pavilions, connecting trails, and biathlon facility improvements.

Although there will likely only be a handful of public meetings or announcements, 2020 will bring the bulk of the project team planning, construction cost estimating, project phasing and scheduling for 169 Redefine, MnDOT’s massive plan to reconstruct U.S. Highway 169 into a full freeway through Elk River. MnDOT welcomed feedback from nearly 400 visitors to their open house in October and have dutifully worked to incorporate public desires into design plans, with construction expected to begin in 2022. City communication staff has begun planning and collaborating with MnDOT and the Elk River Area Chamber of Commerce to ensure helpful and timely information is available for commuters, residents and businesses impacted by 169 Redefine throughout all phases of this two-year project. will continue to be a vital resource for news and information related to the project.

With the multitude of changes throughout Elk River, we’d be remiss if we didn’t take the opportunity to prepare for the next chapter in our history. In 2020 we will embark on two important long-term planning activities. The City of Elk River Comprehensive Plan guides all long-term development including a vision for future transportation, land use, recreation/parks, economic development, and utility needs and desires. We will seek interested community members to actively plan what the next 20 years of growth will bring. The Economic Development Authority will also begin work on a strategic plan to develop initiatives to grow our job and economic bases.

Lastly, the final phase of the city Wayfinding Program will be completed this year. This integrated plan connects our community amenities and neighborhoods through a branded system of signage, monuments and informational kiosks to help direct residents and visitors to some of our many community amenities and hotspots. The program was developed and paid for through a community host fee from Great River Energy.

2020 promises to be a year of new opportunities and experiences. We are hoping the community is as “jazzed” about our projects as we are and are ready to celebrate with a Foxtrot or Lindy Hop because there will be no “prohibition” on the Roaring Twenty Twenties in Elk River!

For more detailed information and updates on these and other important projects in Elk River, check out our website at and sign up for email updates. — Cal Portner, Elk River city administrator

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