Construction on the city’ long-awaited park on Saratoga Lake could begin as early as August and be completed sometime during the fall, according to specifications on the project released by the city.
Bids to construct the park on the former Waterfront Restaurant property are due to be opened next week, with the project expected to be awarded by the City Council sometime later this month. Once a firm is selected, work on the park could begin during the second week of August and extend no later than December, according to a time line included in the request for proposals issued last month.
“We hope that it’s only a matter of a few months until people see some major progress,” Mayor Joanne Yepsen said Monday.
City officials met with interested contractors during a site visit last week. Under consideration since 2008, the project is aimed at improving the only public access the city has to Saratoga Lake outside of a state-operated boat launch at the mouth of Fish Creek.
As a whole, Saratoga Lake has only a few public access points. Aside from the state boat launch and the former Waterfront property, the still-closed Brown’s Beach in Stillwater is the only other area on the lake that will one day be open to the public.
Though it’s unclear how much the city’s project will cost — estimates from nearly six years ago placed the total at roughly $1.3 million — the city will have use of up to $650,000 received in grants from the state. Plans for the park have been stymied since the economic recession tightened city purse strings shortly after its first renderings were made public.
Yepsen said the city is at risk of losing the grants if some progress on the project isn’t measured by the state this year. She said state officials were questioning her about the project earlier this year after seeing little movement during the previous mayoral administration.
“The state was looking for some action,” she said.
The project includes building a parking area at the top of the 3.4 acre property with an entrance and exit onto Crescent Avenue. Staircases, pergolas and stone pathways will lead down a slope toward the lake, where the old restaurant once stood.
An existing road down to the lakefront will lead to a drop-off area, small dock, barbecue grills, stone benches, an existing gazebo and even a sandy beach area. There will initially be no public swimming area when the park is completed, but that could change in the future.
“As a city-owned property, we have a lot of potential here,” Yepsen said.
During the 1940s, the property was home to Ryall’s Beach House, a private bathhouse that served as a popular summer hangout for children. The John Diesem family opened the seasonal Waterfront Restaurant in 1982 and ran it through the end of 2005, when he put the property up for sale.
City officials purchased the land for $2 million in 2006, using a portion of a $5 million open space bond passed by voters four years earlier.
The property remained largely dormant until the old restaurant was demolished in 2011. Public access to the property was restored in 2012, though amenities are limited to a few portable toilets, the restaurant’s old parking lot, a small dock and the gazebo.
Public access is expected to remain through the duration of construction. Yepsen said the intention is to have crews work around the road leading down to the property.
Meanwhile, work to open Brown’s Beach on the lake continues with a late-July opening coming into sight. Stillwater Supervisor Ed Kinowski said heavy rainstorms rolling through the region this spring continue to stymie work on the park.
“We just get done cleaning the beach, then you get four inches in an hour, the beach floods and we have to clean it again,” he said after coming from the site Monday.
Kinowski, who is personally helping with work at the beach, said dozens of people eager to take a dip in the lake show up every time he’s on the property. He reluctantly turns them away with a familiar refrain to check back later in the summer.
“We aren’t quite there yet, but we’re pushing very hard,” he said.