There’s no telling how many athletes have had their day in the sun thanks to Stillwater swim coach Brian Luke. But it seemed like most of them were jammed into city hall last week to honor the legendary trainer as city leaders proclaimed Sept. 4 “Brian Luke Day.”
For 45 years, Luke has led the girls’ and boys’ swimming and diving teams, racking up an impressive array of championships. Luke will be inducted into the Minnesota State High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame on Oct. 12, joining his father, the late Elmer Luke, who received the honor in 2005.
Applause and cheers filled the room as Councilmember Mike Polehna read a laundry list of Luke’s accomplishments. In 44 seasons, his teams have garnered 48 conference titles and 26 individual state titles, among other awards.
Noting it was his first standing ovation, Luke quipped, “where’s the free breakfast?” He acknowledged his wife Jane and his students, saying, “You can’t be a good coach without good athletes.”
In other business, a lengthy discussion of the historic significance of a home at 615 S. Broadway St. culminated in a split vote allowing property owners Reid and Julie Miller to demolish the structure, which they say is deteriorating.
After the Heritage Preservation Commission (HPC) denied the Millers’ request for a demolition permit in March, the Council ordered a consultant to do a designation study to evaluate the historic significance of the house. The study found that the property is not eligible to be listed as historically significant under the City’s existing criteria, and did not recommend it for designation. Both the Council and the HPC questioned that conclusion, however, prompting the couple to hire an attorney to advocate for their right to build a new home on the site.
During yet another public hearing on the issue, well-known historian Don Empson provided documentation that Bing Crosby’s mother, Catherine Harrigan, was born in the house. “Essentially the consultant is dead wrong and everything that the report is based on is incorrect,” Empson told the Council, noting that the house was built around 1875, not 1880 as reported. He said the house qualifies for designation based on its “identification with a person or persons who significantly contributed to the city’s culture and development,” one of the local criteria for historic preservation.
Reid Miller responded that newspaper articles reference the Harrigans living for a short time on Main Street in “Slab Alley”, which would be the same plat but below the bluff as opposed to above the bluff.
At 52, Miller said, he’s never had to use an attorney before.
“This has been a long journey. We’re very passionate about Stillwater. We’re committed to the culture, to the architecture, we’re trying to do good things,” he said. “We’re asking the council to look at the facts and agree not to designate the house as historic.”
Councilmembers agreed that the case highlights deficiencies in the City’s historic preservation ordinances. Councilmembers Dave Junker and Ryan Collins said they had “come full circle” since initially opposing the demolition. Both voted in favor of denying the designation, saying it’s the only option in accordance with the City’s present criteria.
Councilmember Tom Weidner said the issue has gone too far. “History doesn’t own their property,” he remarked.
Casting the lone no vote was Mayor Ted Kozlowski, who said he’d like to see all old homes in Stillwater preserved, whether historically significant or not.
“I think this demonstrates that we’ve got some flaws in the ordinance,” he said.
Meanwhile, a 6.4% increase in the tax levy will translate into a tax hike between five and eight percent for Stillwater homeowners next year.
The Council adopted a proposed $19 million 2020 budget and a proposed $14.6 million tax levy. Final adoption is set for Dec. 3.
Councilmembers nixed several department heads’ requests for increased staffing deemed “critical or high” priority, including three of four additional police officers, a firefighter, and an IT technician. Organizational reviews of city departments are being planned in an effort to gauge efficiency and quality of service.
The council also discussed a proposal to construct a curling center near the St. Croix Valley Recreation Center. The St. Croix Valley Curling Center Board is asking the city to lease the land for $1 so they can raise funds to construct a state-of-the-art, eight sheet facility that would include food and beverages as well as meeting rooms for public use. According to City staff, the biggest challenge would be parking.
Councilmembers expressed interest in getting more information about how other publicly owned curling facilities operate. According to board treasurer Jim Honsvall, the facility could draw $1 million in revenue from leagues, tournaments and corporate events, serving 1,400 to 1,600 curlers a year.