Constructing some form of athletic fields, an athletic complex or a multipurpose community center were the leading ideas for what Pequot Lakes should do with 85 acres of land it owns south of the business park.

In the past week, seven visioning sessions were held with various community groups regarding the land in the Heart of the Good Life Development - a strip of land south of downtown between the four-lane Highway 371 and Patriot Avenue (former two-lane highway). The city is promoting public or private development of this area, including recreational, commercial and industrial development.

Listening sessions were held Tuesday, Oct. 1, for the city council and school board; Wednesday, Oct. 2, for high school coaches, Pequot Lakes Community Education and Youth Sports coaches and advisory council, Patriot Activities Club board and program coaches; Thursday, Oct. 3, for city staff and committee members, with another session that night for the community/public; and Monday, Oct. 7, with three separate sessions for high school students, the community/public, and businesses and service groups.

Roughly 20 people attended each session, except the second community meeting attracted 12 participants and the businesses/service groups sessions had four participants.

The council and school board identified new businesses buying the land as the top idea, followed closely by building an athletic complex.

The coaching group’s top pick was building Little League and intermediate baseball fields.

City staff and committee members identified baseball and softball fields as the No. 1 priority.

Community members at the Oct. 3 session talked about a multi sports event center as their top pick. Those at the Oct. 7 community meeting identified a multipurpose community center for arts and sports for all ages, a multisport complex, multipurpose green space for sports and community activities like concerts, and a premier baseball/softball complex in a four-way tie for the top choice. The last session with four people had three options tie for the favorite choice: baseball/softball complex; soccer field; and commercial/industrial development space.

ICS Consulting led the sessions, which included asking each group a set of questions:

  • What are the great things the city and school district have to offer?

The most common answer was an academically strong, growing school district. Also cited were an abundance of activities for youth; an involved and friendly community; a small town with elbow room and no rush hour; lakes; parks; theater; and recreation.

The answers from students focused on the district’s athletic programs, although several mentioned the high school’s College in the School courses. A few more mentioned quality facilities, particularly for track and field.

  • What are the challenges facing the city and school district?

Common answers were: lack of outdoor space to expand facilities; lack of a business tax base; lack of people willing to implement ideas or volunteer; seasonal ups and downs; struggling local retail environment; businesses don’t support each other; active and engaged business community; keeping taxes in check; promoting businesses with bypass; low visibility and loss of traffic to local businesses; not enough places to eat; growing class sizes; access to fast broadband; lack of diversity; lack of affordable housing; lack of industry or large employing companies; lack of athletic facilities; high quality facilities; lack of identity for youth hockey; cooperation; consensus on decision-making; community buy-in; community is divided; city has been bypassed; availability of quality coaching; funding.

In the student session, the most popular answer to this question - by far - was parking at the school campus. Other answers included: limited space; few tennis courts; no soccer or lacrosse fields; no turf fields; no lights on the baseball or softball fields; underage drinking, smoking and vaping.

  • What community enhancement ideas do you have for the city-owned land?

Answers included various ideas that centered around athletics, including an indoor and outdoor ice arena, indoor swimming pool/fitness center, outdoor athletic green space with lighting to incorporate football, soccer, etc., baseball and softball fields, tennis courts, basketball courts, racquetball courts and pickleball courts; multipurpose community center for arts and sports for all ages; hotel; high tech businesses; and healthcare center.

Among students, ideas centered entirely on athletics. Answers to the question included: an indoor practice facility, a varsity baseball and softball complex, an indoor pool, tennis courts, soccer fields, an outdoor hockey/skating rink, and a golf simulator.

Each person who attended then prioritized the resulting ideas at their session by placing stickers next to their favorites, which determined the front-running ideas.

  • What advice do you have for the decision-makers regarding moving forward with this initiative?

Answers included: don’t go too small; don’t go for the cheapest option; do it right the first time; have vision; listen to the community; look at it as a source of revenue and not an expense; make it multi-use and make sure it can be used day and night all year; don’t let special interest groups sway you; be transparent; keep the public informed; engage community groups to be in charge of a portion of the project; explore all funding sources; budget for maintenance and upkeep; have residents of the city and/or school district vote on proposals; make sure it benefits the needs of many instead of a few; do research; spend more to get more; don’t look short term; find a multi-generational solution and consider both the young and old; create a destination; do what's best for the business climate; adopt a plan that has broad economic appeal for businesses and families and will attract families to the area.

Answers provided by students in attendance included: consider what will likely be used most, or what can be used by everyone; think about what will best help the school district and city; keep activities with rising participation in mind; advertise the project and make it known to the public.

  • What is the best method for the city and school district to communicate the findings back to the community?

The newspaper, Facebook and social media, emails, mailings, radio and public meetings were common answers.

ICS Consulting hopes to compile results from all seven listening sessions and present findings to the city council at its Tuesday, Nov. 5, meeting. A steering committee will be appointed and will meet up to five times regarding developing a plan, with tentative meeting dates of Thursdays, Nov. 7, 14 and 21, and Dec. 5 and 12, from 5-6:30 p.m. at the Cole Memorial Building.

The goal is to have the council approve a plan in December. The steering committee will help shape the project and determine funding options after a plan is identified. At each of the seven input sessions, those who attended were asked to sign up if they wanted to be part of the steering committee.