Downtown Journal: Downtown voices: A call for saving open space on Nicollet Island

As published in the Downtown Journal:

« By Phyllis Kahn

For more than a year, the battle over approximately 2 acres of land on Nicollet island has continued, prompted by the desire of DeLaSalle High School to build a football stadium complete with stands and lights next to their existing building.

The school’s proponents have tried to portray this as an elite neighborhood beating up on a small school with lots of inner-city minority students. This scenario ignores the fact that various actors in the environmental and literary components of our society have weighed in on the issue, all on the side of not desecrating the island with an oversized, suburban-style football stadium.

Environmental groups include the Sierra Club and the Friends of the Mississippi. Historic Preservation experts involved in the dispute include the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota and the Minnesota Historical Society.

In one of the most striking submissions to the Environmental Assessment Worksheet, the superintendent of the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (MNRRA) found the project inconsistent with key MNRRA Comprehensive Management Plan policies and guidelines.

These included the preservation of public open space, the incompatibility with use of the river and with goals of historic preservation.

The Preservation Alliance has designated Grove Street (proposed to be closed for the project) as one of the 10 most endangered historic sites in the state. To quote the MNRRA submission, “Grove Street is one of the physical anchors that define the historic setting of Nicollet Island. Its presence on the island since the late 1860s grounds us in how historic events developed. Grove Street is one of the few through-streets on the island, running from one side of the island to the other. The design [of the stadium] calls for bleachers to be built across the road alignment. This would present a serious visual obstruction to what was once a clear line of sight down the road, destroying the visual role the road played as one of the through-streets on the island.”

In the extensive hearings held by the Park Board, testimony was presented by a young boy (accompanied by a small garter snake he had found) and speaking about the need for open space to study wildlife even if it isn’t rare and threatened. The next week, a DeLaSalle soccer player sneered at him, saying that kids aren’t interested in environment, they prefer athletics.

The proponents for this site continually argue that the project is for the kids. If it is (by virtue of some shared-use agreement) to benefit kids other than those attending the school, why would one build it in the census tract in the city with the smallest proportion of kids, surrounded by similarly populated census tracts, when there are pressing needs for recreation in North and South Minneapolis?

Author Louise Erdrich, urging preservation of Nicollet Island as it is, said in language well beyond my abilities: “Our city is famous for its parks and its quiet places and for the visionary conservationists who understood there is nothing as precious as open space. (I would add the caveat, particularly in the city’s center.) The island is a rare and vital piece of Minnesota history, and its character should never be lost.”

State Rep. Phyllis Kahn (DFL-59B) lives on Nicollet Island. »

View original at the Downtown Journal website.