St. Louis Park Approves $12.5 Million Taxpayer-Funded Nature Center Building

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Credit: City of St. Louis Park

ST. LOUIS PARK, Minn. – A new nature center building will cost taxpayers in St. Louis Park over $12.5 million.

The St. Louis Park City Council approved plans for a new building at the Westwood Hills Nature Center despite rising costs. The proposed interpretive center, which would replace the current one, was estimated to cost $12 million but has recently increased by about $500,000 due to unsuitable soil conditions requiring a more expensive foundation.

In addition to the costs of development, the new building is also predicted to lead to an increase of $140,000 in staffing costs.

Despite the high costs, the city officials believe that the new interpretive center is necessary because the current one does not meet the needs of visitors.

The St. Louis Park City Council voted 5-1 to authorize the continuation of the project.

“I want to make really clear that I’m opposed to this specific plan, not to investing in the nature center because I do believe that the nature center, the interpretive center, needs to be rebuilt. I’m concerned about this plan just because of the total overall cost,” Council member Thom Miller said before the vote.

Miller believes the “very deluxe” proposal would leave the city with less money to spend on other more important items, including new traffic lights at particular intersections or housing for seniors.

The other council members actively support the nature center project. Council member Tim Brausen said that the St. Louis Park community thinks that the new nature center building is a good investment.

“When they see the proposal [they] have said [that] it’s not ostentatious, it’s not overwrought, its really just a well-designed facility to meet the needs that [we’ve] identified that the public has,” said Brausen.

The city spent about $9 million on the Recreation Outdoor Center over the last 2.5 years. Once the new nature center building project is complete in 2020, the city will have spent over $22 million on recreational facilities.

Westwood Hills Nature Center opened in 1981. It offers programs year-round to promote understanding and appreciation for nature. It is a 160-acre natural area located south of I-394 and east of Highway 169. The area was previously used as Westwood Hills Country Club from 1928 as well as for day-camps in the early 1960s. Construction is expected to begin Spring 2019. The nature center will remain open during construction.

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