Monthly Archives: March 2005

DeLaSalle Supporter Continues Spread of Misinformation

DeLaSalle High School has a plan to construct an athletic field on Park Board land on Nicollet Island, and some of its supporters don’t let facts or truth get in the way of their arguments. The most recent example is Linden Hills resident and DeLaSalle parent Judy Blaseg, who previously appeared at a Park Board meeting and claimed that parents did not know about the plan until approximately mid-February, despite the fact that she and her daughter had both written letters to the Editor of the Star Tribune in January supporting the plan.

On March 27, Ms. Blaseg got another letter published in the Star Tribune, this time implying that the owners of the 43 homes located on Park Board land on the island did not pay any real estate taxes. The facts are contrary; the owners do pay full real estate taxes. This fact was pointed out in an article in the Skyway News. This point is repeated by Prudence Johnson in a letter to the Star Tribune on March 29. Ms. Johnson further points out that there are other residents of the island whose homes and businesses are on land that is not owned by the Park Board — people often ignored by DeLaSalle supporters.

2005 Park Board Candidates

2005 Park Board Candidates
Name Party District website
Tom Nordyke DFL City wide
Tracy Nordstrom DFL 4
Jason Stone DFL 5
Scott Vreeland DFL 3
Annie Young Green City wide
Meg Forney DFL City wide
Paula Gilbertson DFL City wide
Carol Kummer DFL 5
Rochelle Berry Graves DFL City wide
Christine Hansen 4
Jon Olson DFL 2
Walt Dziedzic DFL 1
Bob Fine DFL 6
John Lilly DFL City wide
Mary Merrill Anderson DFL City wide

Wirth House Re-use Buried in Committee

Last Wednesday’s (March 16) Park Board meeting was a sad one for those who value our Minneapolis Parks’ unique history and the use of the Wirth House as an interpretive center.

I was at the meeting and watched in amazement at how skilllfully Commissioner Bob Fine, with the assistance of Board President Jon Olson, orchestrated the demise of the interpretive proposal by unnecessarily sending it into committee where it will be neglected and die.

March 16 Meeting Report

Eight commissioners of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board met at their regular meeting on March 16. Commissioner Walt Dziedzic was absent.

5:00pm — Recreation Committee chaired by comr. John Erwin, and comrs. Rochelle Berry Graves, Bob Fine, Walt Dziedzic and Marie Hauser

Roll called, Agenda approved, no Action Items.

* Study / Report Items

#1. Ballet Arts update presented primarily by Marcia Chapman, with additional information from Robert Gooddale. They talked about the history of the organization, the many year relationship they have had with the Park Board, the programs they have run, some as a result of Park Board ideas. Primarily they appear to serve inner-city park youth through dance programs, including a Nutcracker performance. They are here to fix the relationship with the Park Board which has suffered from the departure of several Park Board staff who were involved in the initial partnership, and from lack of knowledge and visibility. It seems many people, including some commissioners, had no idea the partnership even existed, although commissioners Berry Graves, Vivian Mason and Annie Young were very aware of it and the history. All three had high praise for the program. Chapman is aware of the budget constraints and was mostly interested in raising the visibility of the partnership between the Park Board and Ballet Arts with the staff and commissioners. There was a dance video of a performance show and some parents and children in the program testified. All in all, it looks like a great program, and as Berry Graves pointed out, it helps keep children physically fit and serves as a crime reduction program by keeping children busy and out of trouble, teaching them life skills and self-esteem.

#2. Recreation Program Initiatives presented by Park Board General Manager Michael Schmidt. He says there will be more focus on cultural arts in the parks. Says that cultural arts and performing arts is an area needing more focus. Senior programming is another area needing focus. Says the area is “moving forward” and that “staff is aware” but no “answer in 3 week or 3 months” and that they need to get the reorganization behind them. Mentions also Teen Rec programs.

Hauser wants more details about rec. programs in district 4.

Mason asks if the new Loring Parks rec. leader is going to be more cultural arts oriented. [a perfect segue to Schmidt’s response]

Schmidt says a new person will finally be in that position [at Loring] in about 4 to 6 weeks.

New Park Board District Manager Paul Hokeness says a cultural arts person will report to him. He also says some words about the Skyway Senior Center, and that he talked with its director regarding collaboration. City pays for this center now.

Erwin says they need a repository for information; could it be put on the Park Board web site?

Hokeness says it is outside of policy to link from Park Board web site, but they will do something for the Senior Center.

~5:30pm — Committee adjourned.

Operations and Environment Committee, chaired by Annie Young, members Berry Graves, Fine, Erwin and Vivian Mason.

Roll called, Agenda approved, no Action Items.

* Study or Report Items.

#1. Lyndale Park Peace Garden Project Update, primarily presented by Mary Lerman.

Lyndale Park is a 63 acre park adjacent to Lake Harriet, donated to the Park Board in 1885 by William King (hence King’s Highway on the east side of the park). Since October 2003, the project has been raising funds to construct a Spirit of Peace sculpture and replace the peace bridge in the Garden. Through various efforts and events, they are one-third of their way to their goal. The Park Board Foundation agreed to act ask Fiscal Agent for money raising in January. Budget for project is $65,000[?]. Have raised $36,000. Best news yet: a special gift arrived in the last two weeks from Hiroshima, Japan of $14,000. This was a result of the Kawasi family, who with family and friends have raised over $17,000 for the project in Hiroshima. Daughter Maki is here (a grad student at U of M), speaks briefly and is presented with a certificate and token of appreciation, and is photographed with the board and project members. More information here.
[my apologies for no doubt misspelling Maki and her family’s name — I could find no references in print that mentioned them by name]

Erwin reads the certificate into the record. August 5 & 6 is planned new bridge dedication, and October 5 is planned sculpture dedication.

Committee Adjourned.


Administration and Finance Committee — chaired by Hauser, members Dziedzic, Mason, Young and Berry Graves.

* Roll called.

Mason, who was absent last meeting and had an item on the agenda under New Business, which was pushed to committee, wants to add that item to the agenda of this committee.

Commissioner Jon Olson, president of the board and not on this committee and who was ultimately responsible for having sent the item to committee, instead somehow prevents it from getting on the agenda of this committee, and instead moves it into “unfinished business.”

* Original agenda with Mason’s item is approved.

* Change Orders

7.1 and 7.2 approved without fanfare.

* Resolution

The official agenda that the public gets to see simply says:


ORDINANCE 2005-101


This is how they vote on things like allowing liquor licenses in the parks, because that is precisely what this ordinance is about. If you were perhaps a member of the public who had a concern about liquor being sold in a park near you, how would you know that you should be at this meeting? How would you know you should contact your commissioner and make your feelings known?

Despite some technical problems with the number of the existing ordinance being 102 and the new one being 101, 7.3 passes. Liquor coming soon to a park near you.

* Policy

7.4 approve purpose, scope, review and policies for the $500,000 Innovation “superintendent’s slush” Fund. This issue gets a bit of heated debate.

Young had written up a policy after last meeting at request of Hauser. It differs from the staff recommended policy by a very small amount to provide more accountability.

Hauser is incapable of finding the differences between Young’s written policy and the staff’s written policy.

Young has a substitute motion but Assistant Superintendent and board Secretary Don Siggelkow says you cannot have a substitute motion without a motion [there is none pending].

Berry Graves moves to TABLE 7.4.

Hauser tries to not allow any motion except a real motion to approve 7.4, but Siggelkow points out that a motion to Table is always allowed.

7.4 is TABLED.

* Agreement

7.5 authorizing staff to execute a lease with Wheel Fun Rentals at Minnehaha Park for 15% of sales generated by rentals to use space in Pavilion. APPROVED.

Committee Adjourned.


Regular meeting called.

Olson is present but sick, so turns over the chairing of the meeting to vice president Erwin.

Agenda moved by Fine and approved.

Erwin apologizes for late start of public Open Time, says there are 2 DeLaSalle speakers and 1 other speaker.

Actually, it turns out the first 3 speakers are Minneapolis-resident students at DeLaSalle, who all try to persuade the Park Board to give park land to DeLaSalle for the construction of a football field. This whole presentation is obviously scripted, and big time power broker John Derus is present (as usual) along with the WCCO TV news camera team. The complaint about “no home field” is repeated. The claim that the students contribute many hours to the community is floated. It was fairly polished propaganda.

The other speaker was Mary Lou Hill, who spoke about observing open government week by newspaper and library associations and the Freedom of Information Act.

* Minutes from past meetings were approved.

* Reports from Officers
– Superintendent Jon Gurban starts his report, as usual, by telling a joke about working less in February than in January, because the month is shorter. He says little of import but is available for questions on the written report.
– General Manager Schmidt says Arbor Day is May 7, put it on your calendars.
– Director of Planning Judd Rietkerk says security lighting was installed in Wirth Park to light new statues.
– General Manager Siggelkow gives his first-ever report on unfinished business, says there are 50 items from 2004, and his next report is June 15.

Commissioner Mason points out that the citizen request that Siggelkow received was the he report, as per long-standing Park Board policy, on the outstanding committee items [not what he reported on], and Mason suggests that perhaps committee chairs could track their open items to make this easier.

Siggelkow agrees on the chair idea.

Erwin also supports the idea and says it would be particularly helpful for new committee chairs to know what was outstanding.

* Consent Business

Items 2.1 through 2.5 PASS, with a brief Q&A about 2.4 regarding cost of parking lot, etc.

* Standing Committee

Items 4.1, 7.1, 7.2 all PASS with no discussion.

* Unfinished Business

– Discussion items: the Historic Theodore Wirth House.
Part 2 of 2.

Discussion of the Historic Theodore Wirth House.

Mason says that the Minnesota Recreation and Parks Association (MRPA) moved out of the Wirth House in July of 2004. She says there are 4 things the board needs to address. (1) Future usage of the house. Says that 2 groups have emerged, the Minneapolis Parks Foundation and the Minneapolis Parks Legacy Society (MPLS), and she suggests both could share the building, with the Foundation upstairs and MPLS in the basement drafting room. (2) Scheduling and logistics of moving environmental staff out of house into old police offices when police move into new offices on lower level of the headquarters building. (3) Lease terms. (4) Access policy.

[Quick recent history: The Wirth house was historically the superintendent’s residence. Superintendent Fisher moved out and was the last superintendent to live in the house. Superintendent Mary Merrill Anderson signed a lease with MRPA for the 5,000 square foot plus mansion overlooking Lyndale Park on the northeast corner of Lake Harriet. The lease terms were for $750 a month, including utilities. Merrill Anderson became president of the MRPA the following year, and is now running for Park Board as an at-large commissioner.]

Mason also suggests a reception for the Park Board commissioners and the Minneapolis Parks Foundation board of directors at the house [as the two parties of reportedly not met one another], with a historical tour provided by MPLS.

Young supports Mason’s comments and asks how does the board move the ideas forward. Which committee considers the lease?

Staff: Siggelkow says if they are deciding on the type of use of the house, it would go through the Planning committee.

Berry Graves says the lease to MRPA established a policy as to use, so there is no impediment to using it as suggested. She says it is a win/win situation.

Fine moves that the whole business be referred to planning staff, who will present their preferred usage to the Planning Committee. [wag the dog]

Hauser complains that they need a report from staff about their needs for space. [how about that big headquarters building?] She complains that some people have said the MRPA did not pay enough rent and wants to know what other groups are offering to pay.

Berry Graves addresses Hauser and says do I hear you saying we will request more rent than the MRPA paid?

Young points out the house is historic and that both the Foundation and MPLS are non-profits providing valuable services to the park system

Olson says the house needs repairs [funny, the MRPA was supposed to fix the house up — what happened?]. He wants to get money from potential tenants for the repairs.

Mason says that MPLS has offered to raise money for some restoration work. She does not believe this issue needs to go through planning department.

Hauser says “call the question.” [a misunderstanding of Robert’s Rules of Order, shared by many on the board.]

Erwin support Fine’s motion.

Vote is taken. Berry Graves, Young and Mason are all opposed. Motion PASSES 5 to 3.

Young moves to have staff report to Planning Committee within 60 days, and to allow for 3 public visits to the house during the coming summer.

Mason says we could still have an access policy regardless of future use, and adds it as a friendly amendment.

Young clarifies her motion.

Olson asks Rietkerk if maybe he doesn’t have too many projects and if maybe 60 days is not enough? [hint-hint, nudge-nudge…]

Rietkerk says his staff his absolutely buried with work, that he has absolutely no time at all, does not see the rush to come up with a future use, etc.

Fine makes some statement about a meeting he and Gurban had with MPLS that “went well.” He claims that access to the house can just be worked out with the staff, that is Gurban. Says what’s the rush to make policy?

Kummer asks to make a friendly amendment removing the 60 day limit from Young’s motion.

Young says she will accept Kummer’s amendment if it is clear regarding public access.

Berry Graves wants to know “what meeting” went on between Gurban, Fine and MPLS.

Olson says he suggested the meeting in December.

Amended motion PASSES allowing public access 3 times this summer.

[Ultimate disposition and policy for the house remains buried in committee for as long as the majority “5” want to keep it out of the public’s hands — either forever, or until we kick them out of office this November — your choice.]

* New Business




Passes unanimously on a role call vote.

– Walt Dziedzic’s discussion item postponed to next meeting in his absence.

* Petitions and Communications

All commissioners are getting lots of letters from DeLaSalle students, parents, alumni.

Mason says she has continued to get follow-ups from Bryn Mawr and other Bassetts Creek neighborhoods regarding the Bassetts Creek Master Plan, and about which the neighborhood association sent a letter asking for an official response last summer. Could the Park Board please respond?

Erwin announces he will not be seeking re-election.


Star Tribune: 3 members will leave Minneapolis Park Board

Rochelle Olson, March 16, 2005

»An often bitterly divided Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board will lose at least three members this year, including its most ardent environmentalist.

John Erwin, whose hopes to serve as president were dashed twice by the board’s majority faction, will announce at tonight’s regular meeting his decision not to seek reelection. Two other members, Vivian Mason and Marie Hauser, also won’t run again this year.

Mason and Erwin often formed half of the four-person minority on the nine-member board. Hauser, who consistently votes with the majority, is running for City Council in the Eighth Ward.

Mason, in her ninth year on the board, said it’s time to move on. Erwin, in his first term, maintained that he wasn’t driven away by board politics, but that he will leave in order to fulfill a desire to travel and camp with his sons before his teenager leaves home. He offered kind words for his colleagues.«

Entire story at

Skyway News: Downtown parks seat lures second candidate

by Scott Russell

»Christine Hansen, a banker who works with high-net-worth clients and is a youth sports coach, is making a run for Downtown’s Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board seat.

The newly drawn District 4 includes all or parts of Downtown’s Loring Park, Elliot Park and North Loop, plus Southwest and North Side neighborhoods.

Hansen, 43, lives in Kenwood with husband David and her two children, 10 and 13. She starting thinking about running for Park Board last summer, while coaching her daughter’s softball team.

“I found myself in various Minneapolis parks, about four or five days a week, April through September,” she said. “I was beginning to get a little frustrated with what I felt was the poor quality of the conditions of the fields, the equipment, things like that were starting to bother me. I thought Minneapolis could do better.”

Incumbent Vivian Mason announced in February she would not seek reelection. Mason threw her support to friend Tracy Nordstrom, a professional gardener and Minneapolis Tree Advisory Committee member. Nordstrom ran for Park Board in 2001, losing to incumbent Bob Fine. (Redistricting moved Nordstrom’s East Calhoun neighborhood from District 6 to District 4.)

Hansen is a vice president and relationship manager in the private client group of US Bank. She has an undergraduate degree in finance and an MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, she said.

Hansen is a first-time candidate. She had never attended a precinct caucus prior to March 1, she said. She and Nordstrom are seeking the DFL endorsement.

Hansen is still getting up to speed on park budgets and the impact of state aid cuts. She is concerned about the deterioration of the parks but did not know if the problem were a lack of money or whether the Park Board needed to set better priorities. It was something she wanted to investigate, she said.

Like Nordstrom, Hansen said the Park Board needed to improve communications. “Most people felt like they didn’t understand what the Park Board’s direction was, and it wasn’t well communicated,” Hansen said. “I believe that, being in business, I understand communication is key.”«

Full article here

Skyway News: How Nicollet Island became what it is today

A park with homeowners and, perhaps, a private school’s athletic fields by Scott Russell

»A proposal to expand DeLaSalle High’s athletic field onto public parkland has hit a very old and very deep Nicollet Island nerve, firing up decades-old debates about how to best use the island’s historic, scenic and very limited space.

Nicollet Island – a 48-acre chunk of limestone in the middle of the Mississippi River – is at the city’s geographic and historic center. Bootleggers, Bohemians and the city’s financial elite have called the island home during its history. Varying interests have vied for space, from heavy industry and commerce to private education and residences.

Current residents such as attorney Barry Clegg oppose DeLaSalle’s current plans, saying they are out of the island’s character. “The reason people come to Nicollet Island is not to play sports,” he said. “The reason park visitors come is for two reasons. One is the river, the other is to walk around and look at the old houses.”

John Derus, a DeLaSalle grad and current board member, said most city residents don’t know that Clegg and other north end residents have their homes on Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board land – what he calls the residents’ “own exclusive little club.”

“Their end of the island is not a park,” Derus said. “It is a private domicile.”

Why does the Park Board let people live on parkland?

And why would the Park Board consider leasing parkland to a private school for a new athletic field – even if the Park Board would get partial use – when the Park Board used $1 million in public money to buy the land to use as open space?

As always, the ghosts of the past manipulate the present.

Modern history

The roots of today’s disputes lie in two key Park Board agreements (see sidebars, page 13).

In 1979, the Metropolitan Council began giving the Park Board money to buy large chunks of Nicollet Island. In return, the Park Board agreed the land would remain open space.

Then in 1983, the Park Board and the Minneapolis Community Development Agency (MCDA) cut a complex deal balancing competing interests: park lovers, history buffs, island residents and DeLaSalle.

The agreement gave people a 99-year lease to rehab historic homes located on parkland. The Park Board was required to “make its best efforts” to build an “outdoor neighborhood recreational and athletic facility” on parkland near DeLaSalle – in apparent contradiction to the 1979 open space agreement.

Those two contracts tell part of the story, but the chain of events shaping Nicollet Island today stretch back half a century.

The wrecking ball cometh

In 1955, the city began cleaning up its “Skid Row.” The urban renewal project removed blighted property on the Downtown side of the river, dislocating down-and-out residents. A city analysis said some went to the next-cheapest spot: Nicollet Island.

Said former resident Fred Markus, “If you were in urban planning, it was a place that was plagued with dilapidated housing slated for removal, and the people who lived there were challenged by many social ills. If you lived there, it was like living in a little rural village.”

The 300-person “village” included Christian Brothers, old people with generations-long roots and university drop-outs – “people whose hold on the usual rules of organized society was, shall we say, a bit thin,” Markus said.

Two island icons were Doris Parks and her donkey Sheba, one of numerous island critters.

The residents coexisted with many commercial and industrial companies such as Minneapolis Cold Storage; Twin City Tile and Marble; and a truck leasing firm.

By 1968, the Minneapolis Housing and Redevelopment Authority (MHRA, MCDA’s predecessor) adopted the Nicollet Island/East Bank Urban Renewal Plan. It recommended Nicollet Island commercial, recreational and residential redevelopment, but according to a city summary, did not mention a park.

The MHRA began buying island property.

In 1972, city leaders issued “Mississippi Minneapolis,” a report that said the island should function as “the center attraction for Riverfront Revitalization [with] clearly outstanding potential for becoming one of the major identifying elements not only of the city but of the entire region.”

The next report changed the Nicollet Island debate, some say.

In 1974, consultants Miller Dunwiddy evaluated Nicollet Island’s homes, which had become part of the newly created St. Anthony Historic District.

State Rep. Phyllis Kahn (a current island resident who did not live there at the time) said some people thought the report would justify tearing down the homes as useless. Instead, Kahn remembers, “This report came back saying it was the best collection of preserved unruined Victorian houses anywhere in the city and it should distinctly be kept.”

Such arguments didn’t move everyone. Even today, Brian Rice, Park Board attorney and DeLaSalle grad, calls it “a crock.”

“When they talk about the historic nature of the island – hell, if you were going to preserve the historic nature of the island, you would have tenements and business on the island,” he said. “From the 1930s to the 1970s, until they got moved off, it was hobo land.”

However, resident John Chaffee said after the housing report, city leaders stopped calling for demolition and started calling for preservation.

The dot

That same year, 1974, the Legislature created the Metro Parks Open Space Commission, said Al Whitman, at the time a Minneapolis Park Board planner. The Commission was to fund new regional parks on the metro area’s fringes, but Minneapolis Rep. James Casserly pushed for money for the core cities, too.

The Chain of Lakes and Wirth Park became eligible for state cash, Whitman said. As the bill was finalized, he recalled, someone put a dot on the map in Downtown Minneapolis.

“With a dot on the map, the city had to prepare a master plan for how that regional park would look,” Whitman said.

In 1977, a city-parks Riverfront Development Coordination Board asked for funds to buy island parkland.

The metro parks group rejected the city plan. Letting residents live in homes violated open-space funding rules. The historic buildings weren’t the issue; the residents were, according to July 1978 Riverfront Board minutes.

Patty Hillmeyer, then a Park Board member, also opposed residential use. “I had the vision that it would be flattened and it would all be public land,” she said during a recent interview.

She still recalls the battles at Park Board meetings, with residents pushing for the status quo.

“God, we had the donkey lady,” she said. “There was a noodle factory on the north end of the island. She wanted to forever make a stable down there for her donkey. Then there was the horse-and-buggy gal. She wanted to go in with the donkey lady and keep the horses down there. We kept saying no.

“I was the bad guy, or bad girl. I was the meanie all the time.”

Chaffee and other islanders argued residents were essential for a successful park. “What we told the city then is, if you clear the entire island and make it into a big woodsy space in the middle of Downtown, it is not going to be a very safe place,” he said.

The city’s Riverfront Board resubmitted plans in late 1978 that led to the initial $4.6 million open space grant – but not without a tussle. The metro parks group recommended delaying funding until the city detailed how homes would work on parkland. The Met Council approved the city plan anyway.

Details, details

Aspects of that plan would have resulted in a very different island. The Riverfront Board’s 1978 master plan refers to an “Historic Village Preserve” on the residential north end.

“A community meeting house and plaza should be included to provide the focus of the proposed Historic Village Preserve and would be used to provide visitors information pertaining to the various historic houses in the Preserve, and to provide them with descriptions of programmed events; and should include facilities for meetings of various groups, including historical societies and horticultural groups.”

A December 1978 Whitman memo told the Met Council that the Park Board would retain four historic homes for public use: one for display, one for concessions, a third for public toilets and the fourth for park staff.

It never happened.

Whitman said he couldn’t remember the details, but it was one of many efforts to find a compromise between the parties. It met with reluctance, most likely from residents, he said.

Even then, the DeLaSalle athletic field was on the table. Whitman’s memo also said: “Additional space has been reserved Š for outdoor athletic playfields. It will be developed so that both the public and the school will have usage.”

The memo said the field would be on so-called “outparcel” or non-parkland.

The mayor calls a meeting

Despite the 1978 master plan, the Nicollet Island debate continued for years. The Housing Authority had land for redevelopment. The Park Board had money to acquire open space. Residents, as Whitman recalls “wanted to be left alone. But no one seemed to be interested in just leaving them alone.”

A 1980 City Planning Department memo on “the future of Nicollet Island” let fly with a flash of bureaucratic candor verging on a motivational speech.

After listing the island’s many virtues, the memo imploringly asked how such an island “could possibly have lain a foundling for so long on the doorsteps of a great city – and yet again and again and again, when the time for action came, voices faltered, visions faded and doers turned to less controversial projects.”

It continued: “We think that the greatest contribution the mayor, in the name of the people of Minneapolis, could make would be to gain consensus on a durable theme for Nicollet Island. Once there is agreement, by whatever means achieved (cajolery, fiat, reason, purchase, superior power or exhaustion – and all have been tried at some point) on the theme, then everything else falls readily into place.”

Then-Mayor Don Fraser called such a meeting, Whitman said. He doesn’t recall when it happened, and thinks it was an impromptu Saturday meeting.

It resulted in the Nicollet Island Agreement, which on May 19, 1983 cemented the island’s current course.

The Park Board and MCDA (the HRA morphed into the MCDA in 1980) agreed to stick to their strengths. The Park Board would own the land; the MCDA would rehab the houses.

Fixing the island

The MCDA sold the deteriorated north-end homes to private owners for $1, via a lottery system. Owners had to renovate the houses to historic standards.

In 1992, Clegg did one of the last such projects. He spent nearly $200,000 to completely strip and rebuild his home, he said. (It was so run-down the only original parts are the 2-by-4s.) The house Kahn was going to rehab burned down; she rebuilt from scratch.

The residents have land leases from the Park Board that run for 99 years, when ownership reverts to the park system. If the original homeowners sell, the Park Board land lease requires they split any profits above the average Minneapolis appreciation equally with the city and Park Board.

The MCDA retained several large historic homes and rehabilitated them as 22 co-op units, city staff said. Three units are market-rate and the rest are affordable to people between 50 and 80 percent of Metro Median Income.

Then-Councilmember Tony Scallon pushed the idea.

“I would never have supported Nicollet Island open space if there wasn’t some affordable housing there,” he said. “It was more than affordable – that was neighborhood housing. That was for the folks who had saved the island, from my point of view.

“There was a whole group of people like Doris Parks and Fred Markus, and many that I don’t remember the names of, whose actions and activities saved the housing. That is the start of Minneapolis they saved,” he said.

(Neither Parks nor Markus – the first chair of a resident-led group to preserve the island’s residential community -now live on the island. Parks lives in Iowa, Markus in South Minneapolis.)

Today, the island has few private landowners. DeLaSalle owns the school. John Kerwin owns a 10-unit rental-loft building at Grove & Nicollet streets, a former truck leasing headquarters.

Kerwin also redeveloped and lives in the 18-unit Grove Street Flats; he saved the building, then known as Eastman Flats, a day before scheduled demolition. He developed a second condo project in 1984, the 10-unit West Island Avenue condo. Condo associations own the land and buildings.

The Park Board owns the rest of the island, including the land under the Nicollet Island Inn.

Residents: NIMBYs or island protectors

Former Park Board President Hillmeyer said she objected to residential development on the island because people who live by public land begin to think of it as their personal public land.

“This happens at Lake Calhoun, Lake Harriet,” she said. “You begin to think of it as your own. And you want to put conditions on it.”

Residents such as Chaffee say they have helped protect the island, both by deterring crime and by fighting inappropriate development. When the city was going to put in new blacktop on the north-end streets, residents argued for brick pavers that kept down speeds and gave a more historic appearance, he said. (Public Works said the project cost $1 million in 1996. It included state and, neighbors said, Neighborhood Revitalization Program money.)

Whitman said the Nicollet Island agreements were a long and difficult negotiation. “I think the Island turned out to be a pleasant place that the public could enjoy,” he said.

Metropolitan Parks and Open Space staffer Arne Stefferud says that Nicollet Island and the Central Riverfront ranked 10th in the number of visitors of the metro area’s 36 regional parks and 10 park reserves, with 721,500 visits in 2003.

Building ballfields

The 1983 Nicollet Island Agreement – signed by then-MCDA head James Heltzer and Hillmeyer – promised the Park Board would build DeLaSalle an athletic facility on neighboring parkland. Parks Commissioner Bob Fine, an attorney, said the agreement “might tie us in, so we have to.”

It is a provision with some mystery. It appears to contradict the 1979 contract with the Met Council, which said the parkland should remain open space. Further, DeLaSalle is not a party to the ’79 contract.

Who asked for the DeLaSalle language four years later?

Whitman, the senior park planner and point person negotiating the contract, said the MCDA requested it. DeLaSalle supporters “had some influence with MCDA members,” he said. “It was not something the Park Board would have volunteered.”

Heltzer, reached at his Bemidji home, said he did not remember negotiating the DeLaSalle language. “I have no idea,” he said. “That is almost 30 years ago. I don’t recall what the purpose of that was.”

The MCDA’s mayoral representative Jan Hively and City Council representative Lyall Schwarzkopf don’t recall the DeLaSalle field issue coming up, either.

Met Council minutes show that its open-space commission was concerned about the Nicollet Island Agreement. Stefferud wrote a May 1983 memo that stated “construction of the football field and tennis courts as a neighborhood recreation facility would not be consistent with regional park uses. Š [R]egional park funds could not be used to acquire the land upon which the facility is located.”

Stefferud still works for the Met Council. He said he only recently learned the Park Board had built tennis courts on the open-space land, a use he now calls “iffy.”

Whitman noted the 1983 contract says the Park Board is not obligated to build the DeLaSalle athletic facility until DeLaSalle and the Park Board have “a reciprocal agreement” for using the athletic facility and “existing facilities of DeLaSalle.” The Park Board envisioned DeLaSalle sharing not only the outdoor athletic field but its inside space as well, such as the gym and meeting rooms.

He noted, “There has never been a reciprocal agreement written out.”

Million-dollar tennis courts

The current battle centers on Park Board tennis courts at Grove & Nicollet streets, built by the Park Board on parkland.

DeLaSalle has proposed expanding the athletic fields across Grove Street and onto the site of the current tennis courts.

The Park Board paid $1.1 million to acquire that property, the former home of Island Tile and Marble, according to Board documents.

Some residents say that DeLaSalle has a football field already – and got it by expanding into part of Grove Street, making it narrower. Kahn said the residents have accommodated previous DeLaSalle requests; for instance, the school gets first call on the tennis courts.

(The court has no sign indicating it is a public facility.)

People should have fought the tennis court addition, she said: “People have been too nice. In retrospect, people should have fought every single one of these.”

The DeLaSalle dispute has pitted veteran political leaders against each other in an adult version of a schoolyard brawl. Kahn said her neighbors are upset DeLaSalle tried to get Park Board approval for the athletic complex “behind their backs.”

“I think this is Derus’ style: the old North Side style of bullying it through,” she said.

Derus counters that Kahn “uses her office to threaten everybody. She gets her way over and over again.”

Derus charged that island residents tried to organize opposition from neighborhood groups without notifying the school so it could present its side. He calls residents’ concerns about the DeLaSalle field “overblown,” “irrational” and “NIMBY” (Not In My Back Yard). He says residents, not DeLaSalle, got “a sweetheart deal,” living in what amounts to a “gated community” – without the gates.

Such charges make residents such as Clegg bristle – and he goes to his files to whip out his $4,563 property-tax bill for 2005.

Landowner and island resident Kerwin takes a different stance from many residents. He doesn’t oppose DeLaSalle’s athletic complex – and his 10-unit apartment would be right across the street from it.

“DeLaSalle supported us and they supported people on the north tip at a time when they could have taken an all-or-nothing attitude,” he said. “They had plans at that time to put athletic fields on most of the island.”

The current DeLaSalle field isn’t big enough to accommodate bleachers. Derus said it couldn’t accommodate soccer. DeLaSalle would build the expanded facility and allow supervised Park Board teams to use it during the summer.

The Park Board “gets a soccer venue all summer long, which they badly need,” Derus said. “There is nothing like that around. That [$1 million] is real cheap. We are paying for everything. They are not paying for anything.”

Kerwin says DeLaSalle should get creative and put the bleachers on the east bank, so people can watch the game from across the river.

How will the two sides resolve the conflicts between open space and the athletic facility, given the apparent contradictions in past agreements?

Said Derus: “I don’t know. It is a problem.”

He said he is willing to go to the Met Council and have that body make the final decision.«

Original article and two sidebars here at Skyways News website.