On a split 4-3 vote, the Blue Earth City Council decided Monday night to proceed with a proposed land swap with the Faribault County Fair Board.
The proposal calls for the city to gain ownership of 1.8 acres of land that comprises Giant Park and where the Giant statue is located.
The property is owned by the fair board, as is all of the fairgrounds east of the main entrance road, across from the Walmart parking lot.
This aerial photo shows the two areas of land that are involved in the swap between the city and the fair board. The parcel outlined in red on the left, marked ‘A’ will go to the fair board, while the parcel labeled ‘B’ and is Giant Park, will become the property of the city of Blue Earth.
In exchange, the fair board will receive 5.8 acres of land that comprises the former I-90 Go Kart track area, the area around the grandstand, and the land around the fair board's new Veterans Memorial building.
Included in the swap is the grandstand itself.
The city has owned all of the fairgrounds land west of the main entrance road, including the track area, grandstand, two baseball fields and the property where most of the fair buildings are located (except for the horse barn) as well as the area where the historical society has their buildings.
The close vote came after a sometimes passionate debate among the council members and after a half dozen citizens presented their views favoring having both a baseball field and an area for the fair to use in front of the grandstand.
City Councilman Russ Erichsrud made the motion to proceed with the land swap and to use the full 5.8 acres of land to go to the fair board eliminating any area for a ball field.
Councilman Rick Scholtes pointed out that the property in question was large enough to hold both a baseball field and an area for the fair to use.
"The fair board says they need 160 feet," Scholtes said. "That would leave plenty of space for a full-size ball field. I call that a win-win situation."
Scholtes challenged fair board president Daryl Murray to say why this land could not be shared.
"If we don't have all the land then it limits the space for everything we need to do," Murray said. "Yes, we need 160 feet in front of the grandstand in order to be able to offer larger shows, but we also need a large area for staging parking the trucks and trailers involved in putting on a demo derby, moto cross or rodeo."
Councilman Allen Aukes suggested swinging the ball field infield back to the northwest corner, instead of the southwest.
"I think the fair could use the outfield for parking and this would really be a win-win for both sides," Aukes said.
When it came time to vote on the motion to proceed with the swap, Councilman Glenn Gaylord requested a roll call vote.
Councilmen Gaylord, Scholtes and Aukes voted against the motion, while councilmen Erichsrud, John Gartzke and John Huisman and mayor Rob Hammond voted in favor.
Before the vote was taken, Gaylord offered up two amendments to the motion.
The first was to amend it to just giving the fair board the south half of the land in question, essentially splitting the area in half.
"The fair board would get 260 feet of land north of the grandstand," Gaylord says.
The second amendment was to table the vote until after the first of the year.
Both amendments failed on identical 4-3 votes, with the same council members who voted in favor of the main motion voting no on the amendments.
Before any of the votes were taken, members of the public at the meeting were given an opportunity to address the council.
Two boys, Matthew Meyer and Corey Bell, told how much the baseball program meant to them, and how the program is growing and there is a need for another field in order to host tournaments.
Sue Scholtes and Rayne Hanevik both spoke about the issues with softball and the need for more than just one adult softball field. A new baseball field could double as an adult softball field, they said.
Scholtes also reminded the council that the land was once a ball field and they had promised it would become one again if the go kart track quit.
Councilman Gartzke responded that a current council cannot bind the actions of a future council.
Brenda Smith spoke concerning the importance of promoting recreational activities for the youth of the community.
Dan Brod, who will become a councilman in January, spoke in favor of adding another baseball field in the city, saying six fields are not enough when the amount of teams playing is considered.
"There are not enough fields when you look at the number of youth teams who play each summer," he said. "And there is a need for another field for the school teams. We have to have facilities, and right now there is a big focus on baseball."
Brod said he felt there was plenty of land in the proposed area for both a baseball field and for usage by the fair board during fair time.
"There can be removable fence lines so the fair can use the field for parking," he says. "Why not go for this as a win-win deal? Why does it have to be one way or the other?"
Brod also questioned whether the land swap would need to be an ordinance and was told it would be.
He then questioned how the City Charter enabled citizens to revoke an ordinance and was told it would take a petition with a minimum of 250 signatures.
He said that would be the way the citizens of the city could change Monday's decision of the council.