Vision 2020 to ask county to support visitors center project

Published 10:20 am Monday, March 31, 2014

Vision 2020 leaders are going to the Mower County board Tuesday afternoon to help start the first phase of a project to build a visitors center to welcome outsiders to Austin.

Vision 2020 Gateway to Austin Committee Co-Chair John Gray will request $2,500 for the proposed visitors center project from the county during the board’s 1:30 p.m. Tuesday meeting. The City Council approved the same amount and is acting as the fiscal agent for the project.

“We’re hoping to get that from the county as well,” Gray said.

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Gray and Gateway to Austin leaders hope the county and city will cover $5,000 of the $42,000 for the first phase of the project. The Hormel Foundation could cover much of the rest.

Vision 2020 is already working with the Minnesota Department of Transportation to form a manual for bridgework and landscaping along Interstate 90 to improve the roadway in Austin.

Gray hopes the visitors center will one day bring more visitors to Austin and Mower County.

“It’s truly a benefit for the community to draw people,” Gray said.

But the county necessarily 100 percent on board yet.

“The county board is going to have to decide whether or not we think that’s something the county should be involved with,” Commissioner Tony Bennett said.

The county board has a split voting record when it comes to giving money to the Austin community betterment project.

The board voted 3-2 against giving a $10,000 seed donation to Vision 2020 in June of 2012.

Bennett and Commissioner Tim Gabrielson both voted against giving money to Vision 2020 in 2012, along with then Commission Ray Tucker. Commissioners Jerry Reinartz and Mike Ankeny voted for the $10,000 in 2012. Polly Glynn wasn’t on the board at the time.

Last June, the board unanimously voted to give $10,000 to Vision 2020 after the Hormel Foundation — a key supporter of Vision 2020 — gave the county $275,000 in April of 2013 to go toward the new grandstand at the Mower County Fairgrounds.

Bennett said he isn’t against giving money to Vision 2020; he’s just not sure the visitors center is the right project for the county to back because of concerns the project only affects Austin and not other Mower County communities.

Bennett spoke favorably of the county giving money to Vision 2020 for waterway projects.

“Clean usable waterways are the greatest asset any community has,” Bennett said in an email.

Leaders hope to complete the first phase of the visitors center project by this fall. It will include leaders working with residents to get feedback on the visitors center.

The county board meets in the county board room in the basement of the Mower County Government Center.