Pulse: Preservation panel turns down DeLaSalle stadium at Nicollet Island

as reported by Shawne Fitzgerald and published in the Pulse of the Twin Cities

The Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission (HPC) recently voted unanimously to deny DeLaSalle High School’s request to build a football and soccer stadium on Nicollet Island. The inappropriate scale of the stadium and the destruction of a portion of Grove Street, one of the city’s oldest streets, could not be reconciled with historic district preservation standards. Nicollet Island is a subdistrict in the federally recognized St. Anthony Falls Historic District.

The Commissions primary recommendation is to protect and preserve Nicollet Islands remaining historic features, including the street grid pattern and views to and from the Island. Commissioners objected to destruction of original historic features, sound and light pollution, and disruption of the historic district as it is used today.

City Planning staff had earlier recommended against approving the stadium on the grounds that closing a portion of Grove Street would adversely affect the historic subdistrict. Grove Street is mapped on the 1865 plat of Nicollet Island and may have been in use before that time. Grove and other Island streets were recently repaved with a stone pattern similar to those used in the 1800s.

The National Park Service, as manager of the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (MNRRA), the Minnesota State Historical Preservation Office (SHPO), the National Historic Trust, and the Minnesota Preservation Alliance submitted strong objections to the proposed stadium.

Also opposed were Friends of the Mississippi River, Clean Water Action, the Audubon Society, Sierra Club, Friends of the Riverfront, Friends of Camp Coldwater and Minneapolis Park Watch.

DeLaSalle argued that they are the longest continuous resident on the island, that the school has never had a home field on the island, and that they could mitigate the vacation of Grove Street with a four-foot wide walking path.

Judd Rietkirk, representing the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board (MPRB), and a DeLaSalle alumnus spoke in favor of the DeLaSalle proposal.

In March, the MPRB approved a 30-70 year use agreement that would allow the high school to build a portion of its stadium on Nicollet Island park land in return for public access to the facility for 350 hours a year. That agreement is contingent upon DeLaSalle winning approvals from the City of Minneapolis and the Metropolitan Council.

Perhaps the most damning evidence was found in the testimony of Judith Martin, U of M geography professor and Nicollet Island resident.

[Martin] testified that DeLaSalle has a history of asking the City to vacate streets and alleys for construction of football fields. In 1942, the school requested and received vacation of the alley next to Eastman Flats allowing DLS to demolish half of the Flats to build a football field. Three hundred low-income residents lost their homes as a result. The rest of the Eastman Flats building was later removed for DLS tennis and parking. In 1984, DeLaSalle requested and received a 24-foot by 480-foot encroachment on Grove Street again for construction of a football field. Pointing to aerial photos, Ms. Martin noted that DeLaSalle has expanded its school building onto its athletic field thus driving the need to ask for more public land. DeLaSalle’s most recent building expansion, approved by the HPC, was in 2002.

DeLaSalle is expected to appeal the HPC ruling to the Minneapolis City Council.