Cities of Pine City, Waite Park, Forest Lake, and Burnsville selected as 2022 City of Excellence Award winners

(June 24, 2022 – St. Paul, MN) At its Annual Conference in Duluth, the League of Minnesota Cities announced four winners of the 2022 City of Excellence Awards last night. Each winning city will receive a plaque, a check for $1,000, and recognition in League publications and promotional activities throughout the coming year.

The City of Excellence Awards recognize cities for outstanding programs or projects that have accomplished one or more of the following:

  • Improved the quality of a city service;
  • Developed an effective or innovative way to solve an old or common problem;
  • Modified a program from another community or organization to fit the city’s need;
  • Found a way to save the city money while achieving the same or better results; or
  • Creatively involved city staff in decision-making.

Winning entries were chosen in three population categories and in a special topical category. The 2022 winners follow:

Population under 5,000

City of Pine City — Hilltop Recreation Area

The Hilltop Recreation Area revitalization is a collaborative effort between the city, school district, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, and multiple volunteer-led nonprofits and associations. The project transformed year-around conditions in the park and provided new ice rinks and other facilities for park users of all ages and abilities.

Led by resident volunteers and businesses, the project has so far resulted in the construction of a new warming house that also serves as a multi-use facility and includes four locker rooms, two restrooms, a lobby concession stand with large windows that overlook the recreation area, and on-site storage for recreation and maintenance equipment. Additions planned for the summer include an outdoor concrete court area to accommodate family-friendly activities like a roller rink, floor hockey, curling, and adaptive programming like wheelchair basketball.

Population 5,000 – 19,999

City of Waite Park — The Ledge Amphitheater

The city transformed an old, abandoned quarry site into a beautiful 5,000-seat open-air outdoor amphitheater. In the transformation, a special effort was made to preserve the natural beauty of the quarry, as well as much of the granite and wooded area of the property. Planning and development were a community-driven project that sought input from residents and participation of local businesses. The Ledge Amphitheater was created with a focus on flexible space and design, bringing a variety of national and local entertainment options to the facility. The $17 million project was funded through local option sales taxes, local donations, and state bonding assistance. In 2022, it’s estimated that about 60,000-80,000 individuals will visit the site with a projected economic impact for the central Minnesota region of $8-10 million.

Population 20,000+

City of Forest Lake (a partnership with the Comfort Lake-Forest Lake Watershed District) — Advanced Street Sweeping

The City of Forest Lake drains to five significant lakes and spans two watershed districts: Comfort Lake-Forest Lake (CLFLWD) and Rice Creek. Two of the five lakes are classified as impaired waters for nutrients/eutrophication. The remaining three lakes are not classified as impaired but have a high recreational value and are top priorities for protection.

Based on CLFLWD research, the city partnered with the watershed district to secure a grant that led to the purchase of a new regenerative air vacuum street sweeper. Additional research on the first year of streetsweeper use found street sweeping to be a cost-effective strategy for improving lake water quality. The cumulative estimated phosphorous load reductions to all five lakes are 309 pounds per year. Additionally, use of the sweeper improves the quality of city streets and reduces long-term maintenance costs for municipal stormwater facilities.

Topical category – Improving Your City’s Workplace Culture

City of Burnsville — Burnsville University

Recognizing an opportunity to lead in offering training and development opportunities for its own staff, the city created Burnsville University. The program provides seven distinct schools of training to address the unique needs of employees, including Onboarding, Leadership Development, Professional Development, Organizational Learning, Safety and Health, Employee Wellness, and Inclusion and Belonging. To facilitate access, classes are offered in a variety of settings including Burnsville City Hall and other city-managed buildings.

In its first year, Burnsville University was introduced as the home for everything related to employee training and development, engaging more than 600 course participants in 53 different learning experiences. One specific course, People Manager Academy, was offered to help managers become better coaches through gaining an understanding of employee engagement needs. Additionally, 25 participants began participating in a Leadership Development Path program.

The 2022 City of Excellence Award nominations were judged by a panel of three individuals that include Heather Bandeen, community solutions supervisor for Sourcewell; Anna Gruber, administrator for the City of Sartell and League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust Board member; and Jim Scheibel, former mayor of St. Paul and currently a professor of practice for Hamline University.

The League of Minnesota Cities is a membership organization dedicated to helping cities throughout Minnesota build quality communities through effective advocacy, expert analysis, trusted guidance, and collective action. The League serves its more than 830 member cities through advocacy, education and training, policy development, risk management, and other services.