Harry's Gang: Ahlgren served the city well
November 10, 2023
Bruce Ahlgren Park. It has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? I’ve been suggesting to anyone who will listen that we should be naming our public parks and facilities after the public servants who made such things possible. In Cloquet, there’s no one more deserving than Bruce Ahlgren, who served as mayor for many years, and on the school board before that.
Bruce recently passed away, way too young, and it’s time to honor his legacy by naming a public park after him. I suggest we rename Wentworth Park after Bruce, for several reasons.
First, you are probably asking: What is Wentworth Park? It’s a nice, flat lot in the West End, right in front of the original City Hall. It’s barely used, but could be quite an asset to the neighborhood. We can add some playground equipment and a few picnic tables, and maybe some historical markers. It’s the perfect size for a neighborhood park, and would attract the many younger children and families in the area, which fits in with Bruce’s style. This would not detract from the popular Dunlap Island playground and skating loop, which has a more regional attraction; nor from Veterans Park, which is really more geared toward adults and community events. No, Wentworth Park would be the perfect park to rename as “Bruce Ahlgren Park & Playground.”
Second, the park is ripe for renovation and rededication. It’s old and gets very little use, even though there’s quite a population of younger families in the area. It was identified in the master plan the City prepared a few years ago, using expensive consultants and significant volunteer time from the park board, as a good site for a playground. Who’s to argue with expensive consultants? The funds are available (at least they were), using the tax money dedicated to parks, and we don’t need fancy construction or remodeling — just a facelift and some playground equipment.
Third, Bruce was a strong advocate for a healthy park system in Cloquet. He was a driving force behind the local option sales tax effort while he was mayor, which was eventually approved, creating an amazing park system in town. In addition to the extensive park rebuilds at Dunlap and Veterans parks, we fixed up Fauley Park and updated Pinehurst and Hilltop parks, all major facilities with communitywide appeal. It’s time to focus on smaller neighborhood parks, and Wentworth Park should be next. Naming it after Bruce would be a fitting tribute.
It would take a long time to outline all the good work Bruce Ahlgren did for our city in his leadership roles. Bruce enjoyed the prestige that came from being mayor, but he never seemed to play for the spotlight. He played major roles in all sorts of transactions affecting the city, but always kept focused on his vision of long-term success for our community. He was a true leader.
I like telling people how he took a lot of heat when he insisted Walmart conform to the city’s design standards when it built its super-sized building a few years back. The company wanted to use a fairly basic, functional design with a huge surface parking lot, but Bruce knew it was willing to commit to a much nicer facility and a parking lot with curbs, angled spots and islands of trees and grass, making it aesthetically pleasing. But Cloquet citizens were eager to see an expanded Walmart and feared the company would not expand if we required all these extra expenses. Bruce was nearly voted out of office over it, but he held firm that the first thing people see when they enter Cloquet off the interstate should be a showpiece worthy of a wealthy suburb, not a generic big-box eyesore. Walmart knew all along it’d be willing to make the store look nice, and so did Bruce Ahlgren. He always gives credit to councilor Deb Hill for enforcing the design standards, but I give him the credit too.
And I was critical when he arranged the sale of the old Solem Hotel for a nominal fee to a restaurant group looking for cheap space. Turns out I was wrong. That restaurant group evolved into Pedro’s Grill & Cantina, and sparked a renaissance that helped revitalize the downtown area. It was that kind of long-term vision that made Bruce Ahlgren such a good leader, and it’s why he should be remembered by naming a park after him.