Monthly Archives: July 2008

MPRB Board Meeting

Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board Commissisoners Meeting
Commissioners Walt Dziedzic, Bob Fine, Carol Kummer, Mary Merrill Anderson, Tracy Nordstrom, Jon Olson, Scott Vreeland, Annie Young and President Tom Nordyke.
Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board meetings are broadcast live from 5-9 p.m. on the Minneapolis Comcast cable network Channel 14 and online on the City of Minneapolis Government Meeting Channel. 
Date 9/17/2008
Time: 5:00-8:00 p.m.
Type: Regular
Location: MPRB Administrative Offices, Board Room Suite 255
Address: 2117 West River Road, Minneapolis

Park Board Agenda

MPRB Board Meeting

Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board Commissisoners Meeting
Commissioners Walt Dziedzic, Bob Fine, Carol Kummer, Mary Merrill Anderson, Tracy Nordstrom, Jon Olson, Scott Vreeland, Annie Young and President Tom Nordyke.
Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board meetings are broadcast live from 5-9 p.m. on the Minneapolis Comcast cable network Channel 14 and online on the City of Minneapolis Government Meeting Channel. 
Date 9/03/2008
Time: 5:00-8:00 p.m.
Type: Regular
Location: MPRB Administrative Offices, Board Room Suite 255
Address: 2117 West River Road, Minneapolis

Park Board Agenda


By Scott Russell , as originally published at the Twin Cities Daily Planet July 27, 2008

Several for-profit concessionaries and caterers operating on Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board property have had a leg up on the competition because they have not had to pay property taxes.

That’s changing. Tax bills are going out to Mintahoe Hospitality Group (which has its corporate headquarters at the Nicollet Island Pavilion); Twin City Catering (which has its headquarters in the Park Board’s riverfront headquarters building); Schwick, Inc., which runs the Lake Harriet refectory, and others, county tax records say.

The tax bite ranges from $1,818 to more than $67,000 a year. (See sidebar.) That means a financial hit for the businesses themselves, and it appears likely to ding the financially strapped Park Board, too.

The taxes

According to city and county records and interviews, the following six Park Board sites were put on the tax rolls for the first time for taxes payable in 2008, with the exception of Tin Fish, which started in 2007.

• Nicollet Island Pavilion (Mintahoe Hospitality Group): 2007 estimated market value $2 million; taxes $67,188,65. Contract began in 2001.
• Twin Cities Catering, 2007 estimated market value was initially assessed at $2 million but lowered to $1.2 million; taxes now set at $39,819.22, but Park Board official says Twin Cities Catering is appealing. Contract began late 2003.
• Lake Calhoun Beach House, SNP Enterprises (Tin Fish), 2007 estimated market value $270,000; taxes $7,983.44. Contract began 2004
• Sea Salt Seafood (Minnehaha Falls): 2007 estimated market value $255,000; taxes $7,471,09. Contract began 2005.
• Lake Harriet Refectory, Schwick, Inc., 2007 estimated market value $240,000; taxes $6,959.53.
• Columbia Golf Course, Prom Catering: 2007 estimated market value $70,000; taxes $1,818.49

Dana Beasley, supervisor of Real Estate Assessment for Minneapolis, said there are three approaches to valuing property and he uses whichever is appropriate to the situation: market, income or cost.

Because the businesses are on government-owned land, they have a personal property tax account. That means any unpaid taxes follow the person, not the property. (The city would not want to take parkland if a business didn’t pay its taxes.)

While most property tax information is available online, the personal property tax accounts for government-leased property are not. A review of county printouts dated Feb. 19, 2008, included the following personal property tax accounts:

• Dunn Bros. (Central Library): 2007 estimated market value $135,000; taxes $3,507.14.
• Federal Café, (federal courthouse): 2007 estimated market value $42,000; taxes $1,091.08.
• Clock Tower Café, (City Hall): 2007 estimated market value $90,000; taxes, $2,338.11.
• Nicollet Tennis Court: 2007 estimated market value $478,500; taxes $15,135.78.
• The Little Wagon: 2007 estimated market value $360,000; taxes $11,081.28
• Goldberg Bonding: 2007 estimated market value $240,000; taxes $6,975.89
• Minnesota Timberwolves Ltd., 600 1st. Ave. N.: 2007 market value, $37,900,000; taxes, $1,295,392.15.

The Minneapolis City Assessor stepped up reviews of all for-profit use of public property, said Dana Beasley, supervisor of real estate assessment for the Minneapolis Assessor’s Office. The directive came from the county assessor.

As it has played out, things got particularly dicey between the city and Park Board, which have a strained relationship. (The Park Board is an independent board in name, but the city exercises considerable control over the parks’ budget.)

Beasley said he had a difficult time getting information from the Park Board about its leases with for-profit businesses. Don Siggelkow, Park Board general manager for administration and development, has questioned whether the city is being fair to Park Board lessees.

Citizen watchdogs are frustrated, too. Edna Brazaitis and Arlene Fried, frequent Park Board observers and critics, have pushed the lease issue. They now question why the city assessor has declined to pursue back taxes. They note that Twin City Catering’s lease started in late 2003 yet the assessor only is asking the company to start paying taxes this year.

In a commentary for the group Park Watch, Fried wrote that the catering company got to avoid paying 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.”

Brazaitis said the city was leaving a lot of money on the table by not pursuing back taxes.

Asked about back taxes, Beasley said: “Could we have gone back? Maybe so. But we didn’t. You start somewhere and that is where we decided to start.”

Where’s Waldo (and his concession stand)?

If a city or county or library or park property leases space to a for-profit company, who is responsible to tell the assessor?

Apparently no one.

The Park Board discloses to vendors when the lease requires them to pay the property taxes. (That has been the rule of thumb. The Twin City Catering lease says on page 1: “Personal property and property taxes are to be paid by the Tenants.”)

But Siggelkow said the Park Board assumes the assessor’s office will learn about leased property on its own. It could follow Park Board agendas.

“We don’t make it our responsibility to contact the city assessor,” he said. “There is no ordinance requiring us to report that.”

Patrick Todd, city assessor, said he didn’t think statutes addressed the issue. Personally, he would have expected the Park Board to call the city when it leased space to for-profit businesses, he said. In fact, Todd recalled having a conversation with Park Board staff when they bought the new riverfront headquarters, 2117 W. River Road, asking them to inform him of future leases.

In the past, the city hasn’t sat down with the parks, schools or libraries on a regular basis to review new lease agreements, he said. The city plans on doing so in the future.

“There are not many that slip through the cracks,” Todd said, in discussing Twin City Catering. “When we see that happen, we change our business process so it doesn’t happen again.”

Impact coming

The Minneapolis Assessor’s office values Minneapolis property. It sends the information to the Hennepin County Assessor, which uses it to calculate tax bills.

Now that Park Board-related businesses are getting their bills, the repercussions have started. Twin City Catering has asked the Park Board to renegotiate its lease. The company has not returned Daily Planet phone calls, but Park Board staff said the company wants to reduce its leased space to cut its property tax bill.

Twin City Catering’s request is on hold until fall budget talks, but one option floated would reduce rented space by approximately 7,000 square feet, which would cut the rent paid to the Park Board by $80,000-$85,000 a year.

In the latest development, Beasley recently obtained a copy of the Park Board lease with SkipperLiner, the for-profit paddleboat and cruise ship company operating from Boom Island. On first look, Beasley said the property leased by SkipperLiner appears taxable.

The Park Board is reviewing the contract, which runs through 2014 with a 5-year option for SkipperLiner. It will have to sort out who pays what.

According to the contract: “SkipperLiner shall not be responsible for any real estate taxes assessed against any Park Board property utilized by SkipperLiner pursuant to this agreement.” In the next paragraph, SkipperLiner agrees to pay all local, state or federal taxes assessed against its interests or against “personal property of any kind owned or installed on the Boom leased facility,“ including vessels.

Matter of fairness

The tax revenue from these properties does not increase government budgets. The new money effectively reduces everyone else’s tax bill, but it’s such a relatively small amount you won’t see a difference in your tax bill.

Still, for some this is a matter of fairness. One business should not get an advantage over another by not paying property taxes.

Siggelkow raises other fairness issues. He said he thought the city assessed Twin City Catering’s space too high. (The assessor has already dropped the assessment 40 percent and the catering company continues to appeal.)

“When they set the tax so high that it impairs our operators from being able to continue their business, then we definitely get concerned about it,” Siggelkow said.

Siggelkow also questioned whether the city assessed vendors in the Metrodome or the Convention Center the same way it assessed for-profit businesses operating on Park Board land. He sent the city an open records request.

“It is a can of worms,” he said. “That is all I wanted to know. If you are going after us, are you going after everyone else? Let’s be fair about it.”

Data request dust-up

An August 27, 2007 letter from Beasley to Siggelkow is one window into the tension between the two government entities. Beasley wrote an official request for lease documents because: “Our office has requested this information on three previous occasions this year by phone to various park board staff with no reply to date.”

The Park Board eventually provided lease information, with one exception: The SkipperLiner contract.

Citizens later alerted Beasley to the SkipperLiner contract and he got a copy from the Park Board in early July. Asked about the issue, Beasley said: “I can’t go over and take things from them. I can only request and I can only use what they give me. If they want to limit what they give me, that is their decision.”

Siggelkow said he did not provide the SkipperLiner contract earlier because Beasley had asked for “leases” and SkipperLiner has an operating agreement to use the docking facilities. “I wouldn’t call that a lease,” he said.

(The agreement says the Park Board gets a percentage of SkipperLiner’s gross receipts. SkipperLiner does not pay on a square footage basis.)

In further explanation of his decision, Siggelkow said SkipperLiner’s boats are in the water.

“I don’t know if Minnetonka charges their excursion boats [property tax]. That is a good question,” he said. “I don’t think they are paying a property tax for being on water.”

A walk around Boom Island shows SkipperLiner has space on land, too, including a mobile-home sized ticket booth, a dedicated loading/docking area and four dedicated parking spots.

Renegotiating the lease

The Park Board justified buying its riverfront headquarters assuming it could lease out space to help pay the mortgage. Still, it might let Twin City Catering shrink its space.

“We are trying to make sure that his business is successful,” Siggelkow said. “It is like any of our concessionaries, if it is not working, we have to sit down and try to figure out how to make it work.”

The Park Board might take over some of the catering space for its own purposes, he said. It could house the new city-initiated Riverfront Development Corporation in part of the space.

The Park Board also wants to expand its event capacity. It would like to add an event a year, things like the Minneapolis bike tour, which started in 2007. It has a whiffle ball tournament on the drawing board for next year.

And, there could even be more moneymaking ventures, such as admission-based park concerts, he said.

Scott Russell is a journalist. He wrote for the Southwest Journal and Skyway News (now the Downtown Journal) in Minneapolis from 1999-2005. He also wrote for The Capital Times, a Madison Wisconsin daily, from 1993-1999.

Minneapolis is swimming in rules

The litany of restrictions at Minneapolis beaches boils down to one big one: No fun.

Last update: July 26, 2008 – 5:15 PM As originally published in the Star Tribune

Where do many Minneapolis residents go to have fun on a hot summer day? Not to Minneapolis beaches, that’s for sure — because fun is simply not allowed. Better to go to a family member’s or friend’s cabin or to a suburban beach, where fun is not yet outlawed. ¶ Ten years ago, I moved with my young children to Minneapolis from Chicago. That summer, and every summer since, when I go to one of the city beaches I am amazed and annoyed with the city officials who turned our natural gift, our city lakes, into large, boring wading pools — people standing or sitting in the water, hampered by the multitude of antifun rules that the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board has imposed over the years. ¶ These rules include those that prohibit small, colorful flotation devices for toddlers to wear in the water (see the Park Board’s Rule No. 1). Only Coast Guard-approved life jackets are allowed at Minneapolis beaches, and they’d better be worn the correct way. Children are not allowed to give one another piggyback rides, and parents are not allowed a child on their backs, either. Games of “chicken” are of course prohibited — and throwing a child into the water guarantees a lifeguard’s whistle-blowing. Oh, and don’t run into the water — for running is against Rule No. 5.

While it’s hard for me to believe, my wife and her family insist there were swim docks at the city beaches in the early 1980s. They say they grew up swimming out to them and diving off. They even say they had fun. But sometime since, the docks were removed and the antifun rules were imposed.

I know from old photographs I’ve seen in a Linden Hills restaurant that once the beaches were a lot of fun. They were crowded on hot summer days. One of these photos, circa 1905, shows high divers jumping off a board fashioned on top of the old Classic Pavilion at Lake Harriet. There is another photograph of water baseball, circa 1915, showing players standing on inflatable bases. The Classic Pavilion also hosted other amenities, including dressing-room rentals, a bathing suit, soap and a towel for 25 cents.

During a Park Board meeting in March, I asked the commissioners if they could revisit amenities such as swim docks and remove some of their overzealous beach rules. In response, they asked no questions and made no comments. Thanks for coming; the next item on our agenda is …

Since I began talking with people about the beaches, I hear funny stories from these grown-ups about how lifeguards blew the whistle at them for some infraction of the beach rules. Some residents who enjoy swimming in the city’s lakes know to do so in the morning, before the lifeguards show up. Boaters also know they can jump in to cool off in the middle of the lake without reprimand. Of course, these acts of enjoyment are violation of Rule No. 9, “Swim only within marked areas.” The Park Board does offer a legal way to swim outside of designated swim areas. You can fill out a permit and pay an hourly fee of $115 for your very own Park Board lifeguard and rescue boat.

Some cities have figured out that their beaches are still an amenity (and not a liability) for citizens. Minneapolis residents with extra cash and fortitude have figured that you can have still have fun at an area beach by driving to Shady Oak Beach in Hopkins. It boasts two sand play areas, a water play area, a concession stand, shade umbrellas, and restroom/changing areas. Not too far from the shore, but safely in the deep end of the lake, is a swim dock where kids can jump and dive. All you have to do is see the line of kids and adults waiting to use the high diving board to see how much fun that is.

An extra bonus of driving to Shady Oak Beach and paying for swimming there is that the lifeguards don’t spend a lot of their time yelling at the beachgoers to stop having fun.


A Park Board miscue

As originally published on Wed. July 23, 2008 as a letter to the editor in the Star Tribune

The installation of the Red Bull Illume photography exhibit on the Stone Arch Bridge was the Minneapolis Park Board’s bonehead play of the year (“Park Board erred in closing bike route,” July 20).

Pedestrians, dogs and bicyclists had to compete for extremely narrow passage lanes. And when one of the panes shattered, yellow police tape cordoned off 25 percent of the remaining space, making travel even more hazardous.

What a mess! We don’t have enough wide open green space in our parks system for projects like this. I’d love to have heard the commissioners’ arguments in favor of tying up the Stone Arch Bridge for more than 10 days in the middle of summer.


Park Board erred in closing bike route

Closing a major artery into the city for a 10-day art exhibit created danger for cyclists, runners, pedestrians and those commuting by Segway scooter.

Last update: July 20, 2008 – 4:26 PM AS originally published at the Star Tribune

Minneapolis was recently recognized by the U.S. Census Bureau as having the second-highest percentage of people who bike to work in the nation, ranking behind only Portland, Ore. A staggering 4,600 Minneapolitans bike to work on a regular basis (this number does not include students, who are not accounted for in census data). Minneapolis supports its bikers via special funding set aside to create and maintain the 34 miles of Minneapolis streets that have dedicated bike lanes, in addition to 56 miles of off-street bicycle trails.

So it is astounding that the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board would agree to close down a biking route as crucial as the Stone Arch Bridge for a corporately sponsored event.

The Stone Arch is the symbolic centerpiece of the St. Anthony Falls Historic District. It is also a major biking artery, offering one of the most direct routes into downtown Minneapolis from the Northeast side. While I appreciate the park board’s promotion of art in open spaces, it made a grave error in judgment by allowing the 10-day Red Bull Illume event to be held on the Stone Arch Bridge.

The Red Bull Illume display consisted of 25 8-foot cubes that display the winning photographs of a competition honoring extreme sports photographers. These enormous cubes were placed directly on the Stone Arch’s two central lanes, which are designated bike paths. Ironically, the exhibit forced Minneapolis bikers themselves to become extreme athletes who had to dodge pedestrians, runners and Segway scooters on their daily commute. This was not fair to anyone who uses the Stone Arch for its intended purpose. It was a dangerous situation that threatened the safety of both pedestrians and bikers.

The Stone Arch is spectacular on its on merits. It does not need an art display to enhance its beauty. With the end of the exhibit this past weekend, the Minneapolis biking community finally gets back a bridge that should not have been taken from us in the first place.

Sky Christina Satterstrom, Minneapolis, recently graduated from the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute.



Tuesday, July 8, 2008

When Republicans said they were a “big tent” party, city officials in Minneapolis apparently took them literally.

With the Republican convention set just across the river in St. Paul for the first week in September, Minneapolis parks officials have hiked their rental prices for large hospitality-style tents from a bargain-basement $50 to a sticker-shocking $10,000 — a 20,000 percent increase, reports.

In one city meeting, Minneapolis Parks Superintendent Jon Gurban jokingly referred to the price hikes as a “gold mine” timed to coincide with the presidential nominating event. The board faces a $1 million deficit.

“We always like taking some fun pokes at the Republicans,” Gurban told MyFoxTwinCities.

Gurban later explained that the city undertook a survey of park fees compared to what other cities were charging, “and we found out that we were grossly underpricing the park system.”

“It really is kind of a square-footage fee as much as anything,” Gurban said, noting that the fees also would affect other events that use the city’s large tents, like annual triathalons and hockey tournaments.

Gurban, however, said he had not yet heard from the Republican Host Committee, which is planning the convention events, on whether it plans on using any park space in his city.

Timing of tent fee increase in city parks is no cause for political flap, officials say

By TERRY COLLINS, from the Star Tribune website

Last update: July 8, 2008 – 11:17 PM

Setting up an event tent in a Minneapolis park has gotten expensive — as much as $10,000. And though the price hike arrived just months ahead of the Republican National Convention, the Minneapolis Park Board denies there is any connection.

The board approved the increase late last year. Fees that ranged from $20 to $60 last year run between $50 and $10,000 this year, Superintendent Jon Gurban said Tuesday.

Gurban said the fee increase has no tie to the convention, though several reports and blogs have speculated on one.

The fees were increased as part of the 2008 budget to put Minneapolis on par with other major cities, including New York, Chicago and Dallas.

“We had been undervaluing our park system in terms of generating income,” Gurban said Tuesday. “The Republicans can think it’s aimed at them, but we’re nondiscriminatory. It’s an across-the-board increase.”

So what do the Republicans have to say?

“The city of Minneapolis, from the city leaders to the parks, have been great to deal with,” said Jeff Larson, CEO of the local host committee for the convention, which runs Sept. 1-4 in St. Paul.

Most groups, particularly nonprofits sponsoring a returning event in the parks, were allowed to negotiate a 2008 fee with park staff, said Dawn Sommers, a Minneapolis parks spokeswoman.

Gurban said the price for a smaller tent will remain around $60.

“But if you use a big hospitality tent, that could run upwards of $10,000,” Gurban said. “That’s OK. You’re getting this billion-dollar asset and you’re getting exclusivity for it. You have to pay for it.”

As of last week, no park permits had been issued specifically for a convention event, Sommers said. The GOP has until Aug. 1 to reserve space.

“I’d like to think we’d see the list of space they want by this time, so we could be free to release the rest for others,” Gurban said.

Terry Collins • 612-673-1790

MPRB Board Meeting

Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board Commissisoners Meeting
Commissioners Walt Dziedzic, Bob Fine, Carol Kummer, Mary Merrill Anderson, Tracy Nordstrom, Jon Olson, Scott Vreeland, Annie Young and President Tom Nordyke.
Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board meetings are broadcast live from 5-9 p.m. on the Minneapolis Comcast cable network Channel 14 and online on the City of Minneapolis Government Meeting Channel. 
Date 8/20/2008
Time: 5:00-8:00 p.m.
Type: Regular
Location: MPRB Administrative Offices, Board Room Suite 255
Address: 2117 West River Road, Minneapolis

Park Board Agenda