DEVILS LAKE — Words to describe Devils Lake and the surrounding towns include “cold,” “boring” and “nothing” — at least according to some residents between the ages of 13 and 18 surveyed for the 2022 Ramsey County Youth Survey.
The survey of 166 youth in the county, conducted in early 2022, painted a picture of an area with a lack of places for young people to gather.
The need for more to do in the Lake Region, especially for young people, has been an issue for a long time, said Josh Janzen, Devils Lake Parks District superintendent. The bowling alley in Devils Lake closed in 2016, and the movie theater closed early in the COVID-19 pandemic and never reopened.
“There’s just a lack of things to do, and you hear that all the time around here — that there’s just nothing for our kids to do during the winter,” Janzen said.
But by next winter, Devils Lake residents of all ages could have a new location to exercise, play and gather. The Devils Lake Parks District is planning a family entertainment center, paid for by a quarter-cent sales tax increase approved by voters in June 2022.
The proposed family entertainment center is estimated to cost $3.6 million. Plans for the facility include a walking track, community rooms, two pickleball courts, multi-sport simulators, an indoor playground, six-lane bowling alley, senior lounge, and concessions area. The Parks District also plans to move its offices to the building. The facility’s amenities were decided after the parks district conducted a community forum to see what people wanted in a recreational building.
The facility will be constructed in a building located at the intersection of Highway 2 and Highway 20 that previously housed a Leevers Foods grocery store. The Parks District plans to lease the building from the Leevers family, which still owns it. Janzen could not disclose the cost to the Parks District or terms of the lease because it is not yet finalized.
“We’ve heard a lot about not owning the building we’re going into because we’re leasing, but we’ve gotten very fair lease terms from these owners of the building, and they’ve been very supportive of other projects we’ve done before, so it’s a good fit,” Janzen said.
Along with being more affordable than constructing a new building, putting the facility in an existing building will help the Parks District stick to its desired timeline for the project, he said.
The family entertainment center is not the first time the idea of a recreation center has been proposed in Devils Lake, but it is the first time voters have approved the tax to pay for it. In 2014, voters killed a proposal to institute a half-cent sales tax increase that would have funded a new wellness center and convention center. In 2018, they voted against a half-cent sales tax increase for a $19.5 million recreation center.
The sales tax approved by voters in June is expected to generate $400,000 per year indefinitely for the Parks District to use for infrastructure construction and improvements. It initially will be used to pay for the renovations, equipment and lease of the family entertainment center.
When the family entertainment center is operational, the Parks District will charge people who want to use the facility through daily usage or membership fees.
“What we’re hoping is this building will generate enough value and enough revenue on its own to cover the operating costs so we can reallocate that sales tax money to other infrastructure improvements that we need,” Janzen said.
The City of Devils Lake and Ramsey County are also contributing to the entertainment center. At its Nov. 15, meeting, the Ramsey County Commission committed to contributing $250,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funds to the facility.
The city plans to contribute $500,000 toward the project. On Nov. 21, the Devils Lake City Commission obligated $250,000 toward the project from its fund for quality-of-life initiatives to be allocated closer to the beginning of construction. That contribution will act as a 10-year upfront sponsorship for the walking track planned for the facility. On Feb. 6, the commission approved another $250,000 from the city’s growth fund as an ongoing sponsorship for one of the community rooms in the facility, paid in annual installments of $25,000.
The Devils Lake Parks District is finishing the design phase of the project with JLG Architects. Construction is expected to begin in the middle of April, Janzen said.