A rec center restoration in Gary-New Duluth?

Dan Hinnenkamp, president of the Gary-New Duluth Community Club, waxes nostalgic about the important role the neighborhood's recreation center once played, both in terms of his upbringing and in fostering a strong sense of community.

Gary-New Duluth Recreation Center
Kathy Bergen, Duluth parks and recreation manager (from left); Jim Shelton, business owner; Derek Lehecka, draftsperson; Stan Heuer, operations manager for VEIT; Bill Glowacki with Stieg Mechanical; Troy Grohsman, owner of Miller Creek Lawn & Landscape; Eric Johnson of SAS and Associates; and Mark Boben from the GND Development Alliance are offering support to reopen and expand the recreation center (background) in Duluth’s Gary-New Duluth neighborhood. (Bob King /

Dan Hinnenkamp, president of the Gary-New Duluth Community Club, waxes nostalgic about the important role the neighborhood’s recreation center once played, both in terms of his upbringing and in fostering a strong sense of community.
The city of Duluth shuttered the center along with several other neighborhood facilities when confronted with state funding cuts and a
multimillion-dollar deficit in 2008.
“We felt like we had sort of been abandoned,” Hinnenkamp said.
But these days, Hinnenkamp doesn’t speak about the recreation center just in the past tense.
The reason?
The faith inspired by one man: Mark Boben, who recently laid out plans to bring about $2 million of investment to revive the recreation center.
“If anyone in town can get something like this done, Mark can,” Hinnenkamp said.
Hinnenkamp points to Boben’s recent involvement in a successful effort to breathe new life into Gary-New Duluth’s veterans’ memorial. Boben and his boyhood friend, Gary Bubalo, spearheaded a campaign last year that resulted in about $100,000 worth of improvements to the monument.
Boben is raising the bar with his latest endeavor.
“He radiates confidence but not arrogance,” Hinnenkamp said. “Mark always maintains a sense of positivity, as hard as that can be to do with these kinds of ambitious projects sometimes.”
The Duluth City Council signed off on a resolution in support of the effort on March 24, and Boben said he already has received mostly private-sector pledges to contribute more than $225,000 worth of work and materials to the project.
With the help of local contractors and firms, Boben is laying plans to replace a failed water line to the recreation center, update its heating and mechanical systems and overhaul the modest building known by locals simply as “the shack.”
“The building may not look the prettiest from the outside, but it still has good bones,” Hinnenkamp said of the center and its potential.
Boben’s plans include much more than fixing up the center, however. The vision he has embraced also includes a skate park, community gardens, a dog park, new soccer fields, a disc golf course, a picnic area and possibly a ropes course, including a climbing wall. The facility no longer would include a hockey rink in the winter as it did in the past but still would provide for recreational skating opportunities.
“This will truly be a community-led project,” said Boben, describing what he believes can be accomplished through a three-year campaign.
“We’re going to need some help but we will succeed,” he said, noting the generosity of the project’s individual and private-sector supporters.
Boben grew up in Gary-New Duluth but moved away for 35 years to pursue a career in the oil and gas exploration industry. After helping to orchestrate billions of dollars in oil investments, Boben said he has returned with a strong desire to leave a positive imprint on his hometown.
Kathy Bergen, parks and recreation manager for the city of Duluth, said the magnitude of the grass-roots, community-driven project that Boben has proposed is unprecedented.
“Even if your intentions are really good, it takes someone with perseverance and someone who can pull in all sorts of different partners to make something like this happen,” she said. “I think Mark understands all those things. He recognizes the complexity of a project like this, and he has already garnered an impressive variety of support from the business community.”
Bergen said she expects that as more community members join in support of the project, the recreation center will become a point of neighborhood pride. She said the center previously had been plagued by vandalism, but she’s optimistic that will change.
“With all the partners and this being a community-driven effort, I think people will be highly committed to making this recreation center more successful,” Bergen said. “I think there will be a lot more eyes and ears out there watching over it.
“I really do think that will have a significant impact in keeping would-be vandals and nuisance-makers in check. When people have a sense of ownership and pride in their community, it really can make a difference.”
Duluth City Councilor Jay Fosle, who represents the 5th district that includes Gary-New Duluth, said he repeatedly has raised concerns about the lack of recreational opportunities for people living in the city’s far western neighborhoods.
“I think this is an awesome plan, and I love to see people stepping up like they have been,” he said.
Fosle predicts that if the vision for a recreation center in Gary-New Duluth is realized, as he believes it will, the beneficiaries will include neighbors in the Smithville, Fond du Lac and Morgan Park neighborhoods, too.
At Large Duluth City Councilor Emily Larson, who serves on the city’s parks and recreation commission, said the body unanimously supported preliminary plans for the Gary-New Duluth recreational center
“We don’t have great projects like this that come along every day, but Mr. Boben has put together a great package that is so easy to say yes to,” she said. 

How to help To make contributions to the Gary-New Duluth Recreation Center project, checks can be made out to the Gary-New Duluth (GND) Development Alliance and sent to Park State Bank, 2630 W. Superior St., Duluth, MN 55806

Recreation Center plan

Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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