This central Minnesota city on the west side of St. Cloud is moving forward with plans to turn an old granite mining site into an outdoor entertainment complex.
The project got a jump-start earlier this year when the Legislature targeted it for $5 million in its bonding bill.
The idea for an outdoor amphitheater started about three years ago, when the mining company Martin Marietta donated 12 acres of land to the city. The property includes two quarries filled with water.
"It is a beautiful piece of property," said Shaunna Johnson, Waite Park's city administrator. "We often refer to it as a hidden jewel. You're only really a couple hundred feet from Hwy. 23, but when you're actually out on that site, you would never know."
City officials later acquired additional land and expanded the site to 20 acres. They hope to build an amphitheater that would seat 4,000 to 5,000 people, making it one of the largest in Minnesota.
Johnson thinks it could host 15 to 20 national musical acts every year, plus other events such as food festivals, craft fairs or ice skating in the winter.
Communities around Minnesota have been finding creative uses for the pits left behind by mining operations of the past.
Less than a mile away, Stearns County's Quarry Park and Nature Preserve has been growing in popularity since it was created 20 years ago. The park features two deep, cold swimming quarries, rock climbing and trails for hiking and cross-country skiing.
Near Crosby, Minn., the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area has become a destination for mountain bikers, with trails that wind around mine lakes.
Waite Park Mayor Rick Miller said the amphitheater project probably wouldn't be possible without the state bonding money.
"It really would have been a real tight squeeze for us," he said.
The $5 million will cover about 40 percent of the roughly $12 million project cost, Miller said. Local sales tax revenue will pay the rest, he said.
Miller said preparation work is expected to begin this summer. The amphitheater should be built next year and open in 2020, he said.