In an article subtitled “ACLU ponders legal moves after Park Board OKs new athletic complex” journalist Sarah McKenzie writes:
» The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board has given DeLaSalle High School the green light to move forward with plans for a new athletic complex on Nicollet Island.
The Park Board voted March 1 to approve the high school’s concept plan for the new athletic field and a reciprocal-use agreement with the school.
The Park Board vote was 6 to 3 on both proposals with Commissioners Tracy Nordstrom, Annie Young and Scott Vreeland voting no.
Before construction can begin however, the high school must get approval from city officials and the Metropolitan Council.
While Young said the Park Board has taken significant steps to improve its agreement with the high school, several issues remain troublesome, such as the field’s potential environmental impact on the river and the legal implications of moving forward.
She predicted the Park Board would face a lawsuit over the deal.
Commissioner Walt Dziedzic, who represents Nicollet Island, said he was “proud” to vote to move the project along. “This is for the good of the island,” he said.
The Park Board has faced a barrage of criticism since the controversial proposal surfaced in early 2005.
Opponents say the athletic field is an inappropriate use of city parkland and would jeopardize the historic charm of Nicollet Island. Meanwhile, supporters counter that a new athletic complex is a matter of equal opportunity for student-athletes at the private high school – and argue that the school never has had a proper homecoming.
While the school has a practice field, the football and soccer teams have games at suburban fields.
The new athletic complex would rise behind DeLaSalle on school property and 1.7 acres of city parkland. The complex would include new bleachers for 750 spectators and a new field for the school’s football and soccer teams.
The latest criticism of the Park Board’s agreement with the high school comes from the Minnesota chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). In an advisory opinion sent to Minnesota Attorney General Mike Hatch on Feb. 24, Charles Samuelson, the chapter’s executive director, argued that the Park Board’s deal with DeLaSalle is unconstitutional.
“The agreement as it’s proposed, in our opinion, is deficient,” Samuelson said. “And it’s deficient because there is not enough public purpose, and there is too much sectarian purpose in the agreement.”
Samuelson said the proposal wouldn’t be objectionable if the Park Board had exclusive control of the proposed complex, he said.
“We’ve consistently said there is nothing intrinsically wrong with shared-use agreements, but they have to serve a public purpose,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Park Board’s attorney, Brian Rice, noted at the March 1 board meeting that the school and the Park Board would have equal time on the field. The Park Board also asked the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office to issue an advisory opinion on the reciprocal-use agreement, and according to a Feb. 28 advisory opinion, the office concluded that it appears to be constitutional.
Under the reciprocal-use agreement, the Park Board and the school would each have the field for 112 days a year. There would be down time in the winter months when there would be no activities on the field, he said.
Samuelson’s advisory opinion follows on the heels of other objections to the proposal.
In November 2005, the National Park Service criticized the proposed DeLaSalle High School athletic complex for being inconsistent with federal policies designed to protect Nicollet Island’s historic resources.
The Nov. 23 letter sent to Minneapolis senior Senior planner Planner Michael Orange argued the proposed complex would go against park policy advocating open spaces and preservation of the riverfront.
Besides the Park Board’s backing of the proposed athletic complex, the City Council’s Community Development Committee approved the high school’s request for $1.8 million in Minneapolis Community Development Agency revenue bonds on Feb. 28.
The bonds would be used to refinance existing debt used to finance the construction of a new gym and classroom renovations in 2002, according to a report prepared by the Bob Lind, manager of the Business Finance division of the city’s Community Planning and Economic Development (CPED) department.
The full Council will review the bonding request March 10. «
Read the original article at the Downtown Journal website.