Monthly Archives: May 2008


A new low(e): Ads proposed for Minneapolis parks
by: Chris Steller
Wed May 28, 2008 at 2:42:13 PM
from MN Monitor

Bus windows and skyways get covered in ads; are public parks next? Minneapolis taxpayers could soon be greeted at their city parks by banners advertising a national home improvement chain that has no stores in the city proper. Lowe’s says it’s willing to donate $90,000 in goods and services to six parks. The string attached: Lowe’s wants to hang 8-foot by 2-foot banners proclaiming “This area brought to you in part by Lowe’s” in outdoor locations such as Loring Park as well as smaller signs near donated equipment reading: “These products and more are available at Lowe’s.”

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board’s Administration and Finance Committee voted last week to send the proposal to the full board next week, although Commissioner Mary Merrill Anderson, a former Minneapolis park superintendent, acknowledged, “We’re holding our nose.” Commissioner Annie Young abstained, saying she’d read about Lowe’s troubles and thus recognized the company’s need for a marketing boost, but “I really don’t want an 8 ft by 2 ft banner outdoors.” Commissioner Scott Vreeland questioned the Lowe’s approach of targeting parks in certain zip codes. “I don’t know if anyone actually goes to Lowe’s in Minneapolis. It’s kind of a funny demographic. I’ve never been to a Lowe’s,” Vreeland said. “If I walk into Matthews Park, and it says, ‘This area brought to you by Lowe’s,’ that bugs me. Because this area is brought to us by taxpayers.”

Several commissioners said sponsorships were the wave of the future and Minneapolis simply needs a policy for cutting deals. No policy is in place yet; Lowe’s would be an exception, or perhaps the first drip in a coming flood. “Home Depot and other stores that haven’t requested this are going to go ‘Hey, me too!'” warned Commissioner Carol Kummer. “Thinking about how beautiful the parks look, we sure don’t need them cluttered up with corporate signage. If they get really jerky about it, tell them to take their 90 thou and go to …” She trailed off but another commissioner filled in the sentence with the name of another park district: “Three Rivers.” General Manager Don Siggelkow, who is asking the board whether staff should continue negotiations with Lowe’s corporate marketing department, said Lowe’s was already seeking similar arrangements around the area.


Some highlights:

5:00 P.M. REGULAR BOARD MEETING. The agenda item to pay attention to is item 8.1 listed inexplicitly under unfinished business. Turns out that the Park Board’s sole tenant, a for-profit company, has been in violation of the law and of its lease by not been paying its required personal property taxes. Read more about this issue on

There will be Reports of Officers.

The Board will be voting on Rec-Turf’s bid of $75,650 for indoor artificial turf for the Parade Ice Garden.

The Board will be voting on the approval of a time line with performance benchmarks and also on approval of the schematic design for the East Phillips Park Cultural and Community Center project.

The Board will be voting to authorize acceptance of Lake Area Roofing and Construction’s low bid of $58,805 for re-roofing of the northern third of the MPRB Headquarters roof (funding source: 2008 Park Rehab Fund).

The Board will be voting to approve an exclusive use ground lease of Humboldt Triangle with Seed Academy/Harvest Preparatory School.

The Board will be voting on $2.8 million of improvements at the Wabun picnic area. The Board will also be voting on $2.9 million dollars for repair of the WPA wall along Minnehaha Creek and also shoreline and
path stabilization in the Lower Glen in Minnehaha Park.

5:30 P.M. OPEN TIME.

6:00 P.M. PLANNING COMMITTEE. There will be a 50 minute report of the Citizen’s Advisory Committee’s recommendation for the Grand Rounds Missing Link.

7:30 P.M. ADMINISTRATION & FINANCE COMMITTEE. There will be a report by Karen Robinson on the Park Board’s 2009 Budget Presentation to the Mayor.

The meeting will be broadcast live on cable channel 14 from 5 to 9 P.M. and on the web at

The complete agenda is usually available Monday or Tuesday on the Park Board’s website

Arlene Fried, Co-founder of Park Watch



At the upcoming 5/21/08 Park Board meeting, General Manager Don Siggelkow is asking the commissioners permission to renegotiate the Park Board’s lease with Twin City Catering. Twin City Catering is the sole tenant in the Park Board’s headquarters building. It rents approximately one-third of the building for its corporate operations. It also has use of the Park Board’s parking lot for its catering vehicles.

The reason that Twin City Catering wants to renegotiate its lease is because it has been told that it has to pay property taxes. For the past four years, Twin City Catering has avoided paying personal property taxes because neither the Park Board administration or Twin City Catering bothered to notify Hennepin County that a corporate for-profit business was operating in a tax exempt building.

So while all of us law abiding citizens and businesses were dropping our property tax checks in the mail twice a year, Twin City Catering was not.

And, ironically, while the Park Board administration was enabling the Park Board’s tenant to dodge its responsibility to pay taxes, the commissioners of the cash-strapped Park Board were asking the Board of Estimate and Taxation to raise taxes on the tax-paying citizens and businesses of Minneapolis. The commissioners were also raising the user fees on the non-profit organizations who use the parks for fundraising activities.

When the city assessor recently learned that Twin City Catering was being sheltered from its tax obligations, it billed Twin City Catering $65,000 for this year’s taxes.

And now the tax delinquent tenant wants to alter the lease in order to preserve its profit margins at the expense of the Park Board and the public. The question here is: Whose interest is the Park Board’s general manager representing? Is it the Park Board’s interest or is it the tenant’s interest?

We’ve read the lease and it clearly states on page one that the tenant is to pay personal property taxes. If the tenant chose not to pay the required taxes, it’s not the fault of the lease or the commissioners.

There should be no renegotiation of the lease, nor any modifications to it.

MPRB Board Meeting

Details for
Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board Commissisoners Meeting

Commissioners Walt Dziedzic, Bob Fine, Carol Kummer, Mary Merrill Anderson, Tracy Nordstrom, Jon C. Olson, Scott Vreeland, Annie Young and President Tom Nordyke.

Date: 6/18/2008
Time: 5:00-8:00 p.m.
Type: Regular
Location: MPRB Administrative Offices, Board Room Suite 255
Address: 2117 West River Road

Park Board Agenda

MPRB Board Meeting

Details for
Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board Commissisoners Meeting

Commissioners Walt Dziedzic, Bob Fine, Carol Kummer, Mary Merrill Anderson, Tracy Nordstrom, Jon C. Olson, Scott Vreeland, Annie Young and President Tom Nordyke.

Date: 6/04/2008
Time: 5:00-8:00 p.m.
Type: Regular
Location: MPRB Administrative Offices, Board Room Suite 255
Address: 2117 West River Road

Park Board Agenda

Paradise backfilled: Making a mountain out of a river bed at Minnehaha Park

As originally published in the Minnesota Monitor Fri May 09, 2008 at 4:07:39 PM

by: Chris Steller

Minnesota law is supposed to protect the state’s natural and historical resources, but enforcing those protections often falls to local units of government that have other priorities. Case in point: Since last year, an immense pile of dirt has obscured part of Minnehaha Park in Minneapolis, one of the state’s most popular parks, and neighbors are persisting in asking why. This is a story of local government embarking on an unauthorized side project while skirting public review to make what a residents’ environmental committee calls “a major and unexpected change” to “a unique and significant geological feature” at Minnehaha Falls.

Minnehaha Park annually attracts three-quarters of a million visits from people who gaze at the falls, hike along Minnehaha Creek or picnic in the park’s many glens and glades. Not far from the falls, a bronze plaque directs visitors, intriguingly, to an “abandoned waterfall,” a separate site from Minnehaha’s famous falls. It’s at the end of a grassy cul-de-sac known as the Deer Pen, a gentle valley that meets Minnehaha Creek on its way to the Mississippi River. The Deer Pen is really a long-gone western channel of the Mississippi where the river fell and flowed for eons before abandoning that channel in a course change 9,000 years ago. (The same waterfall still exists today, having receded upstream until finally being fixed 120 years ago by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at its current site: St. Anthony Falls in downtown Minneapolis.)

Many park visitors seek out the abandoned waterfall and riverbed, but fewer are finding it these days because it’s been buried under tons of fill dirt from a nearby construction project. The new earthen slope stretches over about a third of the 340-yard length of the Deer Pen, and in places nearly fills its 70-yard width. “It’s a geological feature,” says Irene Jones, a member of the Longfellow Community Council’s River Gorge Committee, of the falls site and old river channel. “You don’t just fill it up, at least not without talking to people.”

Jones and others from the neighborhood say the idea of dumping dirt into the Deer Pen wasn’t mentioned last year when the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board presented plans for building new shelters and roads in the adjacent Wabun picnic area — the project that turned out to be the source of the dirt.

The fall and winter passed with simmering consternation. To many the new slope looked like the makings of a road, while the park board’s Minnehaha District newsletter asserted that “the design of the slope was actually revised to accommodate sledding.” Last month, the gorge committee sent a formal letter to Park Board President Tom Nordyke complaining about the dirt pile and demanding an explanation.

This week, park planner Andy Lesch responded by e-mail, conceding that park staff had authorized the pile without board review or even a drawn-up plan. But dumping dirt excavated from the Wabun picnic area into the nearest depression was the more “sustainable” option, Lesch argued, “rather than truck this material off-site.” (Cheaper, too, for the contractor or the Park Board.) The actual lip of the former falls had already been covered years ago by earlier fill, he says, though without explaining the logic of extending that by a factor of three. He said the project had “all applicable permits issued by the city, local and state agencies,” allowing for disposal of excess dirt within a project area that included the Deer Pen, and he denied that the Park Board was building a road into the Deer Pen, saying that the Wabun topsoil is of no use as roadbed material anyway.

Residents remain suspicious of a stealth road-building project because of what they recall park planners saying last summer regarding “creation of a hard surface access road for vehicles from the north end of the Deer Pen down toward the creek, primarily for police use, although the possibility was raised that this would be a route to perhaps also be used by people with disabilities; some form of vehicular access for large picnic events to take place within the Deer Pen area; and a new park building/structure for picnicking in the Deer Pen area.”

One government agency that didn’t sign off was the Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission. Minnehaha Park is both a local and nationally designated historic district (the state’s first), and the HPC is charged with evaluating proposed changes to the natural and historic landscape there. But the Park Board didn’t ask for HPC approval until the Wabun project was well underway, and then only for a single building. (The park board says the city didn’t say the project needed HPC approval.) In November, then-HPC Chairman Phil Koski said he was “distraught that the project has proceeded to a point where we are really only reviewing one structure and I think there are several elements, pathways, view sheds, entrances, materials, ground surfaces, that need to be considered as part of this landmark. The entire landscape is the landmark.”

On Wednesday evening, several people wandering through the Deer Pen said they were looking for a landmark in the landscape. The old falls site shown on the bronze plaque was the goal for Charlotte Eastin and her husband, Michael, who said, upon learning that their intended destination lay under tons of new dirt, “Boy, talk about abandoned falls!”

Joni Lager, who works just across the river as a fitness specialist at the Ford plant, said she’d been looking for the abandoned falls for weeks. This time she had help from a friend, Jessica Vossen, who brought along her brother Justin and his fiancee, Kelly Garrett. They, too, took their cue from the bronze plaque and were confused about where to look by what Justin called “manmade dirt.”

Brian Johnston, out for a run with his son, Jack, 3, said, “I love this little stretch,” adding that it looked as if the dirt pile area had been clear-cut of trees and bushes. “This part was really secluded,” he remembered.

If Minneapolis park commissioners were to look at the bronze plaque installed 39 years ago, they would see this message from their predecessors: “A great deal of effort has been put forth to retain the natural beauty of the glen so please leave everything as you found it.”


Some highlights:


5:30 P.M. Open Time.

6:00 P.M. ADMINISTRATION & FINANCE COMMITTEE. The Committee will be voting on an exclusive ground lease agreement with Seed Academy/Harvest Prepatory School for Humboldt Triangle Park. Some questions here are is there compensation for this lease agreement and what is meant by “exclusive”?

6:30 P.M. PLANNING COMMITTEE. The Committee will be voting on setting a timeline with performance benchmarks and approving the schematic design for the East Phillips Park Cultural and Community Center project.

The meeting will be broadcast live on cable channel 14 from 5 to 9 P.M. and on the web at

The complete agenda is usually available Monday or Tuesday on the Park Board’s website

Arlene Fried, Co-founder of Park Watch.


As originally printed in the Star Tribune Letters to the Editor, Friday, May 2, 2008.

Make sure it’s safe

The April 26 article “Turf wars not taking place on most area athletic fields” missed the mark in two ways. First, it quoted only those who sell or have bought the product, plus a state health official who said he hasn’t looked into it. Officials who have looked into it — from legislators to city council members — have concerns. A bill this session at the Capitol would require studies of turf’s health and environmental risks.

Second, a turf war did take place this year — and turf lost. A Minneapolis park board proposal died at the City Council after council members asked hard questions about turf’s potential impacts and insisted on the natural grass alternative.

Other states and the federal government are investigating artificial turf, both for lead in the fake grass and for toxins underneath in the fake dirt — which is really rubber crumb, made from pulverized scrap tires. For the health of our state’s children and environment, let’s wait to hear what independent investigators — not turf industry representatives happy to pawn off old tires at a steep price, or local officials who OK’d heavy investments for plastic grass — have to say about the safety of artificial turf.



Some highlights:

REGULAR BOARD MEETING. It was announced that the new Minnehaha District Manager will be Obie Kipper. He will replace Eileen Kilpatrick who recently retired.

The Board voted to accept 23 bids totaling $350,000 for stump removal and $950,000 for tree removal through March 31, 2009.

Brian Rice, Park Board lobbyist, reported that the Park Board received the following amounts from the Legislative session:

*Minneapolis Regional Parks–$3,339,000.

*The Lower Glen–$2,900,000.

*Sheridan Park Veterans’ Memorial–$100,000.

*Dutch Elm Tree Fund–$5,00,000.

PLANNING COMMITTEE. There was a study/report item presented by the East Phillips Park Committee Design Team, led by Arthur Himmelman. The East Phillips Committee is targeting $7,596,000 for capital and operating expenses for the East Phillips Park Community and Cultural Center for the first year. One of the Commissioners’ concerns was where the on-going operating funds for the Building would come from.

ADMINISTRATION AND FINANCE COMMITTEE. The Committee postponed action on selling the Pillsbury-Waite property (which is valued at $1,234,000) for a token amount of $10. The Commissioners had questions–and rightly so–about the transaction. There were no comprehensive staff reports supporting the conclusion that declaring the property as surplus and selling it was justified. In reality, this this transaction is not a sale; it is a gift. This transaction needs thorough scrutiny.

Arlene Fried, Co-founder of Park Watch

Park Board to public data requests: Nothing to see here, folks

As originally printed in the Minnesota Monitor Wed Apr 23, 2008 at 3:46:57 PM

By Chris Steller

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board has told residents who requested public data that at least two top staffers — superintendent Jon Gurban and general manager Don Siggelkow — now make a policy of regularly deleting their e-mail correspondence.

“I don’t know anything about that,” park board president Tom Nordyke tells the Minnesota Monitor. “I don’t think we get to just decide when we delete e-mails.” Nordyke says he assumes staff is familiar with legal requirements for preserving data, and adds that the board had hired a staff person to handle data requests.

“Don [Siggelkow] considers his e-mails transitory and deletes them,” wrote MPRB Administrative Services Coordinator Beth Broich in an April 14 e-mail to Arlene Fried, a co-founder of Minneapolis Parkwatch, whose complaints about lack of compliance with the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act during the park board’s “open time” last year got shut down by then-President Jon Olson until the ACLU-MN intervened. In messages sent April 18 to another resident, Edna Brazaitis, Broich said the superintendent also deletes his e-mail: “Pursuant to our Records Retention Schedule, approved by the State of Minnesota, our employees are not required to keep e-mail communications. It is up to each staff person whether they keep e-mails, and Mr. Siggelkow and Mr. Gurban do not.” The park board’s records retention policy permits destruction of “transitory messages, e-mail or phone messages of short-term interest which are considered incidental and non-vital correspondence.”

Policy or not, the park board’s practices may run afoul of state laws. The park board administration has been sparring with members of Parkwatch and other residents for more than a year over the park board’s compliance with state data practices laws — including the “duty of each agency, and of its chief administrative officer, to carefully protect and preserve government records from deterioration, mutilation, loss, or destruction.”

Disclaimer: The reporter is a member of and has served as spokesperson for Friends of the Riverfront, a citizens group that has taken the MPRB to court and of which Edna Brazaitis, one of the citizens mentioned above, is president.