Monthly Archives: February 2004

Minneapolis Club honors Theodore Wirth

Here’s the text of an interesting document about an event at the Minneapolis Club. It was signed by more than one hundred Minneapolis business leaders:

This Luncheon today is given in honor of Theodore Wirth by his friends as a public recognition of notable and enduring services to the City of Minneapolis.

After a service of thirty years as General Superintendent of Parks he recently reached the mandatory retiring age and was retired by the Board of Park Commissioners with the title of distinction Superintendent Emeritus.

When Mr. Wirth came to Minneapolis he brought with him a love for flowers from his early childhood, a three year apprenticeship in horticulture, a special training in engineering in his birth country, Switzerland, and an experience in landscape work and in the management of large private estates in America and abroad and as Superintendent of Parks Hartford, Connecticut.

At that time the Park System consisted of 1,800 acres, which were increased while he was Superintendent to 5,200 acres and the inclosed lakes and woods were embellished and strung together under his direction on a filament of parkways as a superb jeweled ornament about the heart of the city, with such gems as Glenwood Park, now named Theodore Wirth Park in his honor, Cedar Lake, Lake of the Isles, Lakes Calhoun, Harriet and Nokomis and Minnehaha Falls fascinating in their settings.

During all his life, both as a private citizen and in public service, Theodore With has been honest in all his dealings, faithful to his concept of a great unified park system and earnest in cooperation with others to make his dream come true.

The perfection and glory of his work charm the visitor and linger in memory long after he departs. They will always be an abiding monument to Theodore Wirth. He can have none better.

Mr. Wirth, your friends give you this signed scroll and this purse as a token of appreciation and high regard with the prayer that they may bring to you and to Mrs. Wirth an added measure of happiness.

Dated at Minneapolis September 13, 1939

About Theodore Wirth

Theodore Wirth (1863-1949) received the Pugsley Silver Medal in 1930 “for his services in developing the Minneapolis park system.” He was widely recognized in the first third of the 20th century as the dean of the park movement in America.

Questions requested by the MPRB on February 4, 2004 regarding MPRB’s excursion boat RFB procedure.

Questions requested by the MPRB on February 4, 2004 regarding MPRB’s excursion boat RFB procedure.
James R. Grabek, February 5, 2004

Has the MPRB really investigated the financial viability of the Padelford’s Boom Island operation to assure that profits/losses warranted an increase in fees?

Why was a contract not negotiated and concluded after the Padelford’s August 4, 2003 letter (see attached)?

Why was an RFP issued without the “criteria for excursion boat and charter operations” of the MPRB’s policy Park Board Ordnance PB-4-92 (see attached) which was required of your previous client for 14 years?

Why was an RFP issued with stipulations of November 2003 to March 2004 bidding process when the MPRB had knowledge of this being detrimental to the Padelford client method of securing next year’s business?

Why did the RFP require a “restricted discussions/submissions” section and then the MPRB complain that they were no communications between the MPRB and the Padelford client?

Why were the two proposals received in response to the MPRB’s RFP proposals for the Bohemian Flats area of the Mississippi River and not the Boom Island proposal?

What are the specifics of the SkipperLiners proposal for Boom Island?

What will be the costs incurred by the MPRB with the SkipperLiner dockage proposals for Boom Island and Bohemian Flats?

What are the comparisons, side by side, of the Padelford contract and services for 14 years compared to the SkipperLiner proposal?

Why is this just a 2-year contract with options instead of a longer term contract?

Has a thorough investigation of the previous business experiences of the SkipperLiner company been accomplished and has a report on such due diligence been made public?

Why were there so many references of “perks” by MPRB staff of promises of the SkipperLiner proposal but specifically clarified that “this will not be in the contract?” (Example: promises of boat features, advertising, house boats, water taxi’s, etc.)

Why is there such a “rush” to negotiate a contract with SkipperLiner when there seemed to be no rush to conclude the RFP until March 2004.

Why is the RFP timeline now being altered? Is it for the convenience of timing to allow SkipperLiner to meet seasonal needs? If so, why didn’t the original RFP show consideration to a 14-year client with good performance not given the same consideration?

Brief history of the parks

The Minneapolis Library staff has written a nice summary of the history of the Minneapolis park system, complete with historical photographs. The text of that online article is reproduced below:

As the city was growing in size, population, and prosperity in the latter part of the 19th century, there were foresighted individuals who wanted to see the city’s natural beauty preserved. In 1883, the Minneapolis Board of Trade adopted a resolution to establish an independent park commission, with the reasoning that the rapid growth of the city “warns us that the time has come when, if ever, steps should be taken to secure the necessary land for such a grand system of Parks and Boulevards as the natural situation offers.” The resolution was sent as a bill to the State Legislature, which authorized a referendum to be voted upon by the citizens, who overwhelmingly approved it in 1883.

One of the first acts of the newly established board, and its president, Charles M. Loring, was to engage the services of two well-known landscape architects of the time, H. W. S. Cleveland and Frederick Law Olmsted. Cleveland had been the head of the country’s oldest park commission, that of Boston. Olmsted was the designer of Central Park in New York City. They both pressed for acquiring parklands well in advance of the existing need. The Board followed their advice, acquiring large areas of land that would have been prohibitively expensive, if even available, in later years. To illustrate, the first thirty acres of Loring Park were purchased in 1883 for $4,904 per acre. In 1902, some additional land by Loring Park was acquired at the cost of $48,096 per acre.

Theodore Wirth, superintendent of Parks from 1905 to 1935, was largely responsible for the development and expansion of the park system in its formative years. Wirth dredged the lakes and graded their banks, thereby eliminating the swampy sections as well as the frequent flooding. The park system he built, influenced by Olmsted’s vision, reflects the individuality of the various components contained within. It is no accident that the character and function of Lake Harriet, Lake Calhoun, and Lake of the Isles differ from one another. Lake Harriet, with its playground and band shell, has a family and group recreation orientation. Lake Calhoun reflects a faster pace as a favorite for iceboating and sailboarding, while Lake of the Isles has a more reflective feel and is frequented by cross-country skiers, roller bladers, and strollers.

Today, along the 53-mile parkway system known as the Grand Rounds, are numerous parks and parkways, lakes (22 within the city limits), streams and creeks, the Mississippi River, and the 53-foot high Minnehaha Falls, made famous by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in his “Song of Hiawatha.” The 6,400-acre park system is designed so that every home in Minneapolis is within six blocks of green space. Furthermore, the park system has been called “the best-located, best-financed, best-designed, best maintained public open space in America.” (Alexander Garvin, The American City: What Works, What Doesn’t, 1996, p. 63)

About that house

The house that the Park Board built for Theodore Wirth in 1911 and occupied by subsequent Park Superintendents was vacated when Superintendent David Fisher moved out in 1996. The Wirth house was the last remaining Park Superintendent’s residence in the upper midwest.

In Decmeber, 1996, the Park Board negotiated a most unusual deal with the Minnesota Recreation and Park Association (MRPA), headed by executive director Jon Gurban. The MRPA was excited about occupying the Wirth house, according to Gurban. “Minneapolis is probably the most famous urban park and recreation system in North America,” he said to a Southwest Journal reporter. “It’s important that that history continues to exist.”

Gurban said the MRPA would use the house’s main floor for a historical display open to the public. The house is not open to the public today, and in fact, the MRPA has done everything it can to keep the public out it seems. Gurban himself has rudely thrown the public out and locked the door, half an hour before the end of contracted public open house — a contract Gurban signed himself.

Prior to signing the lease, the Park Board said the MRPA would pay for renovations. Instead, the MRPA contributed a piddling $5,000 to a renovation that cost the tax-paying public over $200,000. Then to add insult to injury, the Park Board leased the 5,000 square foot mansion in the East Harriet neighborhood to the MRPA for a measly $750 a month, and the Park Board picks up the cost of the utilities.

“We’d be good shepherds,” stated Gurban.

With shepherds like Gurban and the MRPA, we might was well let the wolves have the entire flock.