A consensus on Wilson Brewer Historic Park has been reached.
At the end of an hour and a half, during which some tough talk hinted at the friction that has sometimes seemed palpable, the City Council of Webster City and the Hamilton County Board of Supervisors agreed to meet again.
“Is this a possibility? Yes,” Supervisor Jerry Kloberdanz said near the end of the meeting in the council chambers of City Hall. “Is this the answer? No.”
The next meeting, the time and date of which was not set Monday night, will drill down on what kind of working agreement is possible between the city and county regarding the operation of the park, and how much each is willing to designate to its annual budget.
They are comparatively simple points, reached through a murky maze of questions and uncertainty when four boards – two governing and two advisory – aired their thoughts in an effort to figure out how to go forward with the historic park in Webster City.
Early in the meeting, Rick Young, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, put the mission in short words: “Cut through the crap. We laid out our things. What we want to know is, what are your expectations?”
The City of Webster City owns the park that sits where Superior and Ohio streets intersect. It is the site of the town’s founding, gifted to the city by descendants of Wilson Brewer, the town’s founder. Because it is owned by the city, the city maintains it. Over the years, the budget for that maintenance has fluctuated. And, over the years, buildings have been added to the park for which there was no adequate maintenance budget.
In an effort to move the park into the future, it has been proposed that the city and county work together to establish a separate board that would operate similarly to the boards of trustees that run the Fuller Hall Recreation Center and Kendall Young Library. They are both legacy institutions, funded mostly by endowments and supported to a small extent by the city.
The legacy of Wilson Brewer Historic Park was the gift of land, on which were the Brewer-Bonebright homestead and two log cabins built by Frank Bonebright. The homestead was intentionally burned down years ago; the cabins have been moved and reconstructed.
What the Brewer legacy did not provide was an endowment fund. The park now is home to six buildings: a railroad depot, a country schoolhouse, a country church, the county’s original courthouse building, and the two cabins.
The supervisors have recently given $180,000 to restore the courthouse building.
The next step forward, though, threatens some members of the council when it comes to the topic of control.
Councilman Logan Welch gave voice to that. “I have concern about taking things out of city control,” he said. “I’d like to know what this means for the city, and for yourselves.”
“What if they make poor choices?” Zoami Calles-Sosa asked. She was one of the members of the Parks & Recreation Commission who attended the meeting.
Councilman Matt McKinney added, “My concern was the city was going to turn over control. … There were too many questions about what that looks like?
“It’s all tied together,” Kim Anderson, a member of the Wilson Brewer commission said. “The only way to have the land, the endowment, was to form the board.”
Dean Bowden, who has offered to donate $1 million to fund the beginnings of the endowment, was at the meeting.
“Have you any other offers for a million dollars to save a park?” he asked at one point.
Gary Groves, president of the Wilson Brewer commission, said, “I personally see great benefit with the city and county come together.”
Mayor John Hawkins said, “The hope is that we’re going to take better care of it. If the whole thing fails, we get it back.”
Doug Bailey, a former county supervisor who now sits on the Wilson Brewer commission, said he had calculated that the city spends about $35,000 a year on the park through utilities and other services, such as mowing of the grounds.
What the park does not have is money to hire a director or staff the buildings so that it can be open for visitors.
At the end of the long discussion, McKinney said, “I’m committed to moving forward with discussions with the county.”
Hawkins adjourned the meeting. “Thanks everybody for coming. It’s been good.”
View this article as it originally appeared in the Daily Freeman-Journal.
Last modified: November 29, 2022