Monthly Archives: February 2006

Is Park Board at Risk with Nicollet Island Inn Liquor License?

The City Council’s Public Safety & Regulatory Services
Committee meets tomorrow, Wednesday, March 1, and has on its
consent agenda (i.e., items not expected to have discussion) the approval of sanctions against the Nicollet Island Inn for serving alcohol to minors. It appears that the business is essentially on probation and with another violation they would lose their liquor license.

This is interesting in view of the recently-approved “estoppel agreement” by which the Park Board, which owns the land under the inn, agreed that the Inn’s current owners could borrow against the property. The latest violation occurred Jan. 19, a couple weeks before the Park Board acted Feb. 1.

Question: if the Inn loses its liquor license, can it remain a viable business? How would that effect the loans and the Park Board’s financial interest in the business and property? Were park board staff or commissioners aware of the problem when they OK’d the Inn’s borrowing?

The City Council’s Public Safety & Regulatory Services Committee Wednesday, March 1, 1:30 p.m. – Room 317 City Hall

Committee Members: Samuels, Ostrow, Hofstede, Johnson, Schiff, Gordon (quorum 4)

Council Committee Coordinator: Jackie Hanson (612) 673-2046

Consent Items
Licenses & Consumer Services
8. Nicollet Island Inn:
Approve Technical Advisory Committee recommendations
relating to On-Sale Liquor License.

Staff report: Nicollet Island Inn Findings of Fact

Link to agenda document at city web site

From the agenda website you can download the staff report.

City to Consider Bonding to Refinance DeLaSalle's Debt

As posted on the city’s web site and reported on the Minneapolis Issues forum:

“Tomorrow, Tuesday, Feb. 28, the City Council’s community development committee will consider issuing $1.8 million in bonds to refinance [private Catholic high school] DeLaSalle’s debt from its 2002 gym construction and classroom remodeling project.”

Your tax dollars at work.

Minneapolis Observer: State Civil Liberties Union Will Challenge De La Salle–Park Board Deal

“The Minnesota Civil Liberties Union (MCLU) has advised the state attorney general’s office that it will challenge any Park Board plan to turn over public land for a De La Salle football field as an unconstitutional violation of the separation of church and state.

In a letter to Attorney General Mike Hatch on February 24, the MCLU charged that the proposed reciprocal-use agreement approved February 15 by the Park Board’s planning committee, violates the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution and certain articles of the Minnesota Constitution. “The agreement’s requirement that MPRB hand this land over for De La Salle use in order to allow them to expand their campus and advance their competitive edge within the education setting is an overt form of aid to a sectarian institution and in conflict with the principles set forth in the Minnesota Constitution,” wrote MCLU executive director Charles Samuelson.”

Full article can be found here at the Minneapolis Observer web site.

Downtown Journal: DeLaSalle plan gets OK

Journalist Kari VanDerVeen writes the following in her article for the Downtown Journal:

» Controversial plans to expand DeLaSalle High School’s athletic field onto Nicollet Island park property took another step forward Feb. 15 when the park board’s planning committee approved the project’s concept plan and reciprocal-use agreement.

Both items will now go before the full park board on March 1. If the board approves the items, General Manager Don Siggelkow said the project would then need approval from the city and the Metropolitan Council on several other issues before construction could begin.

The final concept plan for the athletic field includes bleachers for 750 people and an open field area designed for football and soccer use. About half of the facility will be on DeLaSalle’s property and half on 1.2 acres of adjacent park land. According to the reciprocal-use agreement, the Park Board would lease – not sell – the park land to the school.

The committee approved the concept plan 3-1 and the reciprocal-use agreement 3-2. Commissioners Bob Fine, Walt Dziedzic and Carol Kummer voted to approve both items. Commissioner Annie Young voted against both items, and Commissioner Tracy Nordstrom abstained from the vote on the concept plan and voted against the reciprocal-use agreement.

When the items go before the full park board, Siggelkow said the concept plan needs the approval of five commissioners to pass and the reciprocal-use agreement needs the approval of six. «

Read original story at the Downtown Journal website.

Star Tribune Letters: Theodore Wirth, father of city park system

In his letter to the editor, grandson Theodore J. Wirth describes his grandfather’s contributions to and love for the Minneapolis park system. An excerpt follows:

He was a Swiss-born landscape architect with a vision to transform Minneapolis into a “garden city.” Grandfather was 42 years old when he arrived on Jan. 10, 1906. He committed the rest of his life to his newly adopted city.

He designed recreation opportunities into his beautiful landscapes and put his plan in motion to place a park within six blocks of every child that would live in the rapidly growing city (he came very close to achieving that). He was able to expand, embellish and refine the park system to nearly three times the expectation — to become known as the best in the nation by 1928.

Grandfather shared credit with park commissioners and considered the talented and trustworthy staff as family. A June 23, 1935, article quoted Wirth, “You see it isn’t a one man job we have done here. It has been the fruit of marvelous co-operation all along the line — from park commissioners down to the … laborer[s], and I think the people of Minneapolis appreciate what they have.”

Full letter available at the Star Tribune website.

Fear in the local park: Downtown Journal: A fairer Fair Oaks

An article by Jeremy Stratton in the Downtown Journal about Fair Oaks park:

» Neighbors hope to reclaim park

On a chilly January afternoon, only a couple of people passed through Washburn Fair Oaks. Although virtually deserted, the park showed signs of illegal activity: empty vodka and beer bottles half-frozen in the snow.

“Too dangerous,” one man said of the park, declining to give his name. “There’s too many robberies.”

Chad Whittlef, who lives a block away, walks his and his neighbors’ children through the park on their way to school each morning and sees evidence of drinking and drug use every day. “On many occasions, I have felt unsafe and had to scurry out of the park,” he said.

In response, he and others have launched Friends of Fair Oaks, a nonprofit organization dedicated to reclaiming the park – a move already undertaken by neighborhoods near Stevens Square and Loring parks.

How fair is Fair Oaks?

The park, bordered by South 24th and 22nd streets and 1st and 3rd avenues, is feet from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA) and the Children’s Theatre in the Whittier neighborhood.

Last summer, when Whittlef and his children were picking crab apples near the park’s drinking fountain, a group approached and overtly completed a drug deal before dispersing.

“I felt there was potential danger,” Whittlef said. “It was not just a couple of people on a bench; this was a coordinated event happening very quickly.”

The Minneapolis Park Police have jurisdiction over all city parks and patrol Fair Oaks during open hours from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. But the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) also responds to 911 calls in parks, particularly those deemed high priority. Lt. Ameila Huffman of the MPD’s 5th Precinct said that in 2005 police took action in 22 incidents in Fair Oaks. Park Police figures were not available.

The once and future park

In 1883, politician and milling mogul William Drew Washburn built Fair Oaks mansion on the 10-acre estate that is now the park. The grounds included a pond (the now-dry valley near 24th Street) and stream crossed by a long rustic footbridge, a carriage house and greenhouse.

When Washburn died in 1912, the estate was given to the Park Board. The house was razed in 1924.

Whittlef hopes to reintroduce the pond and footbridge and preserve the rare green gage trees, in the plum family. “We eat the plums every year,” he said, “but the trees are clearly dying.”

Working with the city, the nonprofit hopes to increase legal use of the park and push out crime through such measures as increased lighting and high-tech surveillance.

The Park Board already has in place a foundation for Fair Oaks and a master plan for improvements. Whittlef has contacted both the Park Board and the Park Police about the nonprofit’s plans and hopes to build the necessary partnership with the city, neighborhood institutions, residents and donors to implement these and other changes.

Look to the North

Both Stevens Square and Loring Park have built such coalitions to wrestle with similar issues in their parks.

Last year, a man was shot to death on Stevens Avenue, just feet from the park. A rash of armed robberies in the spring was thwarted with the arrest of an apparent theft ring.

MPD calls to the park nearly doubled from 2002 to 2003 (62 to 117), but dipped again last year to 59.

“I’m not offered crack as much,” said Lisa Ganser, a four-year Stevens Square residents who was walking her two dogs in the park.

Increased police patrols have kept down crime, she said, but drugs are still sold, bottles still emptied and car windows still smashed.

Ganser credited sponsored events such as movies and music in the park and the annual Red Hot Art festival, which bring more people into the park, for the improvements.

“Stevens Square was a community effort,” said Doug Kress, former executive director of Stevens Square Community Organization (SSCO). “Businesses, Plymouth Church, [SSCO], and the very active neighbors and artists … make the sense of community broader and make the streets feel safer.” A well-organized block club patrols the streets.

Loring Park also had a sketchy reputation, mainly for drugs and prostitution. John Van Heel, president of Citizens for a Loring Park Community (CLPC), cited the recent renovation of the park – with funding from the city, Park Board and its own nonprofit, Friends of Loring Park – in making a safer public space. A network of property owners and residents also has helped track and decrease criminal activity.

Police calls to 1382 Willow – Loring’s official address – have hovered around 460 a year since 2002, with a dip to 370 in 2004. Luther Krueger, crime-prevention specialist for the 1st Precinct, noted that those numbers could include incidents that started adjacent to parkland.

Since summer, for instance, police have focused on the intersection of Nicollet and Franklin avenues – two blocks from both Fair Oaks and Stevens Square. Drug traffic flows down Franklin, Huffman said, especially from the east, and the stretch of Nicollet Avenue South from Downtown to 28th Street has been plagued by robberies. That Downtown-Southwest artery passes within three blocks of Fair Oaks, Stevens Square and Loring parks.

Like Kress, Huffman credited neighborhood groups like SSCO and the Whittier Alliance, as well as partnerships among police, the city, and area residents and organizations for keeping the neighborhoods – and their parks – safe and user-friendly.

“The fact is, everybody is afraid of the park,” Whittlef said of Fair Oaks. “That’s what we need to address.” «

Original article at the Downtown Journal website can be viewed here.