Monthly Archives: August 2008

Update on the Public Service Announcement

Though the permit issued by the MPRB states from 6:30 to 8:30 pm the Stone Arch Bridge area has been posted with signs stating it is closed from 4:00 to 10:00 pm. Does this mean that the MPRB is getting shorted cash they claim they are in such desparate need for to keep our system running?

Check out the attached picture of the posted signs.
Closed Sign.pdf


By Arlene Fried co-founder of Park Watch

This advertisement was discovered on the SkipperLiner website. So what’s going on here? The Park Board has a contract with SkipperLiner and the Minneapolis Queen. There’s been no mention of SkipperLiner or Paradise Cruises during any Park Board meeting for quite sometime even though there are references to SkipperLiner in the e-mails I was given as a result of a recent Data Practices request. Why would SkipperLiner be ditching the Minneapolis Queen when it’s under contract?


64′ Skipperliner M/V Minneapolis Queen

Year: 2005
Current Price: US$ 1,295,000
Located in Minneapolis, MN
Hull Material: Fiberglass
Engine/Fuel Type: Twin Diesel
YW# 76022-1939925

Other photos: Exterior 1, Exterior 2, Salon 1, Salon 2, Bar, Exterior 3, Interior Skylight, Spec Plan.

Outstanding paddlewheel riverboat has the exciting features you need to sell the corporate and wedding market. Plus, the design appeals to the lucrative sightseeing market and includes a glass ceiling to view the skyline and bridges. Features include galley with built-in buffet, luxury cherry decor, and traditional paddlewheel theming. Dining Salon seats 104, and the Admiral’s Room seats 32. Note: the stacks can be lowered to clear low bridges along your cruise route. Give us a call today to review the deck arrangements and photos of this top notch paddlewheel riverboat.

Contact SkipperLiner Industries. 127 Marina Drive
La Crosse, WI 54603 USA
Tel 877-752-6287
Fax 608-784-7778
Contact Us

For photos see link –


Here’s another article about the problems that resulted from private companies doing business on Park Board property. This article by Cristof Traudes appeared in the August 25, 2008, issue of the Southwest Journal.


In May, it appeared Twin City Catering had fallen upon difficult financial times.

The private business, which operates within the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board’s headquarters on West River Road, had asked the Park Board whether it could renegotiate its lease. Hoping to lower its rent, it was seeking to jettison its event center space.

Before any contract renegotiations could get started, the Park Board commissioners had to give approval. They were supposed to do so at their May 21 regular meeting.

But in the days leading up to that meeting, citizen watchdogs cried foul.

Park Watch, a common critic of the Park Board, pleaded with President Tom Nordyke not to approve the renegotiations based on one fact: Twin City Catering, under contract since 2003, had just been given its very first tax bill.

The company had not been dodging taxes — it turned out they had never before been assessed.

Citing higher moral standards, Park Watch argued Twin City Catering shouldn’t be allowed to get a lighter lease now that they’ve learned what their regular taxes are. That wouldn’t be fair, members said, to the other businesses who applied to occupy the headquarters space but didn’t win a contract. And it wouldn’t be fair to Twin City Catering’s competitors, they said.

Christine Viken used to own the Van Dusen Center.

“Considering that our property tax bill for 2007 was approximately $75,000, the unfair advantage that [Twin City Catering] enjoyed really sticks in my craw,” said Viken, a former member of Park Watch.


Twin City Catering isn’t the only private business on Park Board property seeing tax bills for the first time this year. There are a handful of others, including Mintahoe Hospitality Group, which operates out of the Nicollet Island Pavilion, and Sea Salt Seafood Eatery. While the businesses — at least one of which has had a contract with the Park Board since 2001 — were charged as much as $67,000 on their 2008 tax bills, none is being asked to pay for the years it wasn’t assessed.

Businesses don’t often slip through the Minneapolis Assessor’s Office cracks, said Patrick Todd, the city assessor. But if any were more prone to, it would be businesses on public property. That’s because statutes don’t make it clear who is required to notify the assessor’s office when a private business opens in a public space.

That leaves just a couple of ways for the assessor’s office to get a heads up. One is if someone were to approach the office. That’s never the business itself, said Dana Beasley, supervisor of real estate assessment for the city assessor’s office — nobody ever waves their hands and asks to be taxed, Beasley said.

In this case, the Park Board also didn’t feel it necessary to notify the city.

“That’s their business,” said Don Siggelkow, the Park Board’s general manager for administration and finance.

The only other tool the assessor’s office has is a survey sent every four years to public bodies.

With the survey, “we make sure that people who are [tax] exempt remain exempt and that when things change, we know about it,” Todd said.

The Park Board responded to such a survey last fall, which is when the assessor’s office finally learned of the private businesses’ existence. Shortly afterward, the businesses were assessed, and their first tax bills were sent out this year.

While some watchdogs are wondering aloud why none is being asked for back taxes, Todd said it’s policy for the assessor’s office to only do so in cases of intentional wrongdoing.

“If it looks like someone’s defrauding the system … we’d go back,” but this was an “honest mistake.”


A seventh business operating under an agreement with the Park Board also may soon get its first personal property tax bill. After assessing the other businesses, Beasley was tipped off by a citizen there was one that didn’t appear on the list: SkipperLiner, a cruise ship company that docks at Boom Island.

Although his work isn’t finalized, Beasley said that, at this point, it looks like SkipperLiner will owe taxes.

That’s a surprise to Siggelkow, who noted the business operates largely on the water.

“Do houseboats get assessed personal property taxes?” Siggelkow asked.

He didn’t provide the city with a SkipperLiner lease because, he said, one doesn’t exist. Rather, the company has what Siggelkow called an operating agreement with the Park Board.

That doesn’t matter to Beasley. He said the Park Board can call the arrangement whatever it wants. In the end, the only factors that matter are whether SkipperLiner is a for-profit business and whether it’s operating on public land. And while Beasley acknowledged the argument that a large part of SkipperLiner’s business is on water, he doesn’t consider that the whole story.

“Let’s put it this way: You have to dock somewhere,” he said.


The SkipperLiner agreement isn’t the only issue where Siggelkow doesn’t see eye to eye with the city assessor’s office. For one, he considers the original assessment and ensuing tax bill for Twin City Catering a “staggering amount.”

The catering company did, too, quickly arguing for the assessment to be lowered. The business has succeeded at getting it down somewhat, and its tax bill is now about $39,800, compared to the original $67,188.65. But Beasley said the company isn’t satisfied, continuing to appeal the amount. That process could continue for more than a year, he said.

Twin City Catering representatives could not be reached for comment.

Contract renegotiations with the Park Board also never got started, as the commissioners never had a chance to give the action approval. Nordyke pulled the item off of the May 21 meeting’s agenda, and it hasn’t returned since. Siggelkow said the issue should come before the board again within the next two months.

Meanwhile, Siggelkow has filed an open records request with the city hoping to learn whether private businesses’ leases on city property are seeing similar assessments.


The following article by reporter Cristof Traudes appeared in the August 11, 2008, edition of the Southwest Journal and also the August 4, 2008, edition of the Downtown Journal:


By Cristof Traudes

The Park Board has started a nine-month process to create a policy on corporate relationships

It’s a beautiful, sunny morning, and you’re really craving a run. You get up early, hop outside and take a turn for Lake Calhoun. After completing the 3.1-mile loop, you want a breather. Maybe grab a cup of coffee, sit at a café table, stare out onto the water.

So you stop at the Starbucks on the beach, a tiny shop that serves all of the chain’s coffee, and sit under a table shade with a small Starbucks logo emblazoned on it.

It’s a relaxing way to start the day.

Of course, in reality, all you can do right now is take the run. Starbucks isn’t by any of the lakes in the Minneapolis parks system. Neither is Caribou Coffee, nor Dunn Bros, nor Dunkin Donuts, nor Dairy Queen.

But one of them might be there some day — or it might not. The Park and Recreation Board currently is attempting to learn its limits, which kinds of corporate partnerships and sponsorships it will accept in the future and which it will refuse to pursue. On July 16, its standards and conduct committee began what’s expected to be a nine-month process to develop an official policy on forming and recognizing corporate relationships.

This comes after years of attempts at corporate sponsorships that have gotten the board into hot water.

A strong public outcry forced the Board in 2002 to reconsider — and ultimately scrap — an attempt to contract with Dairy Queen for operation of concession stands at lakes Calhoun and Harriet.

When Lowe’s, a hardware store chain with no locations within Minneapolis city limits, offered $90,000 to the parks earlier this year, complaints arose quickly after word came that it would require banners proclaiming the corporation’s presence. (Read more about the status of that donation in the Parks Update, page A16.)

And as recently as last month, the Park Board and the city received complaints from constituents about an art exhibition placed on the Stone Arch Bridge, partly because it was viewed as an advertisement for corporate sponsor Red Bull.

While Park Board staff members say they respect people’s hesitation toward a corporate presence in the parks, they’re also working under an ever-tightening budget proliferated by a shrinking supply of tax-dollar funding. Commissioners and staff alike have come to the conclusion corporations are going to have to play a role in the Board’s future.

Two-way street

The Park Board has a history of being helped by large donations. Without them, there might never have been Lake of the Isles Parkway or Linden Hills Boulevard or Dean Parkway. A lot of the land around Lake Harriet was donated.

It might be no surprise, then, that some with the Board put a lot of stock in the benefits of creating a policy that could spur corporate donations. Vice President Mary Merrill Anderson is one of them.

“We’re hoping to revive the spirit of giving to the parks for this current generation,” Merrill Anderson said.

But believing a corporate donation is just that — a representation of the spirit of giving — is a mistake, said David Wilkinson, president of the Wilkinson Group, a leading global marketing agency. In fact, Wilkinson said, it’s not much of a donation at all.

That’s because sponsorship money always originates from a company’s marketing department, he said, and is meant to help the corporation as much as the donation’s recipient. For example, a major soda company might be willing to spend thousands of dollars to help out a school system but won’t if it doesn’t get exclusive vending rights.

“If the public body gets into it as a fundraising venture, it won’t work,” he said.

That makes the public queasy, and not only in Minneapolis. Wilkinson said that of the numerous public body-corporate sponsorship negotiations he’s been a part of, the constituency is always hesitant — often fiercely so.

“The public wants the dollars,” he said, “but they don’t want to pay to get the dollars.”

With its policy development, the Park Board is trying to figure out how to successfully navigate this virtual two-way street with as much public support as possible. It took little time after the Lowe’s pushback for the discussion to appear on its agenda.

It was moved along at a July 16 committee meeting by Walking Minneapolis’ Sarah Harris, who gave a presentation showcasing ways other cities, such as New York City and Chicago, have incorporated corporate presences in their parks.

Harris included images of café-style Starbucks nestled in parks, public buildings with small inscriptions recognizing corporate donors and shops selling city-related merchandise. Logos were all relatively small, while banners, advertising slogans and catch phrases were virtually non-existent.

“The point is that it could be done small and tastefully,” Harris told commissioners.

Setting a policy

There are no specifics yet for what the Park Board will or won’t allow. They’re still at step one, which is figuring out how much parkland would be worth to corporate donors, said Don Siggelkow, the Board’s general manager for administration and development.

Once the valuation work is done — which should be by the end of the month, Siggelkow said —the plan is to hold at least three study sessions. The commissioners, who showed strong support for corporate sponsorships in a survey last year, will be given specific examples of sponsorships and partnerships and will have to decide which forms would be acceptable in Minneapolis, Siggelkow said.

A finalized policy is expected by April. And once it’s approved, the Foundation for Minneapolis Parks, a nonprofit that raises money for the Park Board, will use it as its guideline to find suitable donors.

While the Board will continue to have the option to deny sponsorships — which, if history is any indication, the public could repeatedly ask them to do — Siggelkow said it would be in the best interest of the commissioners not to sway far from its policy.

“They’ll really need to understand how damaging that can be,” he said.


The following articles by reporter Cristof Traudes appeared in the August 11, 2008, edition of the Southwest Journal:


A $90,000 donation from Lowe’s — an unsolicited offer that ignited a flurry of comments and criticism for proposed signage it would bring into parks — is changing shape.

Park Board officials said the hardware store chain, after continued negotiations with Minneapolis and other cities to which it’s donating, has all but decided to drop the idea of signing contracts. Instead, Lowe’s is considering sending its donation in the form of gift cards, leaving the systems in charge of their own purchases, said Michelle Kellogg, grants coordinator with the Park Board.

The original proposal would have had Lowe’s representatives much more hands on.

“It just got to be more complicated,” Kellogg said.

The lack of a contract would have several implications for the Park Board’s plans with the donation, including taking away a signage requirement. Talk of 11-inch by 17-inch indoor signs and 6-foot by 2-foot outdoor banners proclaiming “This park brought to you by Lowe’s” created a dustup from constituents concerned about putting advertising in the city’s parks.

Parks General Manager Don Siggelkow said to expect the signs to change, although he wouldn’t say there would be no visual recognition of Lowe’s help.

“Of course, we’re going to thank them,” Kellogg said when asked about the signs. Neither she nor Siggelkow yet knew what form the recognition would take.

The Park Board also would no longer be required to only spend the money on the six parks Lowe’s picked for its initial proposal — although Kellogg said Lowe’s would still prefer the focus to stay there. Those parks include Loring, Parade and Harrison parks.

Siggelkow said he didn’t foresee that changing much, but he added that a greater portion of the donation might be funneled toward Parade Park from Loring Park.

Lowe’s spokeswoman Maureen Rich had no comment.


The city needs more time to investigate a park dedication fee.

That’s the conclusion laid out in a report presented on July 15 to the City Council’s Community Development Committee by a work group made up of members of the Department of Community Planning and Economic Development (CPED) and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.

The fee would be a charge to new residential and commercial developments within the city. It would be dedicated to building or upgrading parks near those projects and is considered by some at the Park Board to be key in relieving some of its financial stress.

While the Legislature gave its approval for a fee in 2005 and the Park Board signed on last July, the City Council has moved slower because of a number of concerns. Critical among those is the impact it would have in relation to the city’s efforts with affordable housing.

While the Park Board has said projects that would contain only affordable units would be exempt from paying a fee, things get murky with projects where only a percentage of housing would be affordable, such as those assisted by the city.

The work group, as chronicled in its report, took a sampling of five Twin Cities suburbs and several major cities throughout the country that have forms of a park dedication fee. None of the suburbs have a policy exempting affordable housing, while Portland, Ore., for example, doesn’t charge any project that involves low-income housing.

The report also included a letter from Mary Bujold, president of real estate research company Maxfield Research, who wrote that a park dedication fee could increase the amount of money the city would have to pay on housing projects it subsidizes. If a fee ordinance were to apply to those projects, developers would have to pay more money up front, Bujold wrote, or the city would have to increase its subsidy — essentially drawing from city money to pay for parks.

The report is far from being a final verdict on a dedication fee, CPED Deputy Director Chuck Lutz said. Work continues on finalizing minute and major details, from the affordable housing issue to how much the fee would cost.

“There’s still a lot to be done,” he said. The work group plans on meeting every other week, Lutz said. No date is set for them to report back to the Council.

Click here for the park dedication fee report presented to the City Council’s Community Development Committee on July 15.


Park Board Commissioner Jon Olson has filed to run for the state House of Representatives.

Olson, who was the previous Board president and represents the parks’ 2nd District — essentially, North Minneapolis — will face Joe Mullery in the District 58A DFL primary on Sept. 9.

If Olson were elected to the House, the Park Board would appoint a replacement for the remainder of his term, which ends Dec. 31, 2009.


The Minnesota Orchestra will perform at the Lake Harriet Band Shell this year, thanks to a last-minute donation by Target.

The orchestra had announced in July it would cancel its Sept. 14 performance, which would have been the first time since 2002 that the orchestra had not been at the band shell. Shortly afterward, however, Target offered to sponsor the concert.

As originally planned, the orchestra will take the stage at 3 p.m. Orchestra music director Osmo Vänskä will conduct the free performance.


Both MPRB Superintendent Jon Gurban and General Manager Don Siggelkow have for sometime been out of compliance with the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act (MGDPA) by failing to respond to numerous requests for public information from members of the public. And now they are out of compliance with the $440,000 exclusive 5-year contract that the Park Board signed with Coke in 2003. And this could cost the Park Board the loss of the lucrative Coke contract. Read more in the following article by reporter Chris Steller that appeared in the August 6, 2009, on-line publication “The Minnesota Independent.”


By Chris Steller

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board appears to have strayed from its obligations under a lucrative but restrictive contract with Coca-Cola.

The park board signed the $440,000 contract with Coke (pdf) five years ago, promising to sell only Coke products and not sell competitors’ products. Yet drinks from competitors such as Pepsi and Red Bull are being sold and advertised at several park board outlets—even from a vending machine at the park board’s headquarters building.

And by selling a $25,000 permit to Red Bull for the drink company’s photo cube installation on the Stone Arch Bridge last month, the park board appears to have violated broad prohibitions against promotional activity by competitors in park board-managed places.

At stake is a deal potentially worth $500,000 or more in funding to the park board and the Foundation for Minneapolis Parks, taking into account the park board’s 32 to 40 percent cut on sales of Coke products. Coke could terminate the contract and demand reimbursement if it finds the park board has failed to “substantially perform any of the promises set forth in this Agreement.”

General Manager Don Siggelkow signed the five-year contract nearly five years ago, on Aug. 20, 2003. But he told the Minnesota Independent today that the contract is in force through the end of this year. The park board would issue a request for proposals, he said.

Coca-Cola’s main office in Atlanta referred questions to an official at the local Midwest Coca Cola Bottlers who has so far been unavailable for comment.

Siggelkow said he is unaware of instances in which the park board is out of compliance with the Coke contract. When I offered several examples, he asked whether I am a lawyer (I’m not) and suggested that I get a lawyer to say whether the park board is out of compliance.

Here are photos taken within the last few days at the Lake Harriet Refectory building and at a Lake Calhoun vendor’s concession stand. The Refectory sells Red Bull and Pepsi products from the snack bar window, under a Red Bull sign. The vendor displays five Pepsi products, including Gatorade and Aquafina (only two for Coke) alongside a menu board that lists Gatorade. The park board’s contract exempts only “fresh-brewed unbranded coffee and tea products, unflavored dairy products, water drawn from the public water supply or unbranded juice squeezed fresh at the Facilities.” In all other beverage categories, the contract obligates the park board and its concessionaires to sell only Coca Cola products.

Here is a photo of the Red Bull trademark on display at the Stone Arch Bridge last month (MnIndy video). As you might guess, this was by no means Red Bull’s only presence during the 10-plus-day event. Under the Coke contract, “No permanent or temporary advertising, signage, or trademark visibility for Competitive Products will be displayed or permitted anywhere at the Facilities.” The term “Facilities” includes “real property owned, managed or controlled by the MPRB.” The park board does not own but has responsibility under a separate government agreement for activities and maintenance on the deck of the Stone Arch Bridge, which links parkland at either end.

And here is a vending machine at the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board’s headquarters building on West River Parkway. The offerings include Pepsi, Diet Pepsi and Mountain Dew, a Pepsi product.

Not shown but coming up next month is the Minneapolis Bike Tour, for which Chippewa Spring Water is a sponsor, as it was last year. The park board and Chippewa logos co-mingle on the event’s Web page, in apparent violation of the park board’s contract with Coke. See an excerpt from the contract below, or click here to view a PDF of the entire contract.



The following article by Shawne FitzGerald, a Powderhorn resident, first appeared August 7, 2008, on the ‘Minneapolis Issues Forum’


I urge list members to read Chris Steller’s latest parks article “Minneapolis parks’ Red Bull and Pepsi dealings put Coke contract at risk” at The article includes a link to the actual MPRB-Coca Cola contract.

One section of the contract requires Coke to pay $250,000 to the Foundation for Minneapolis Parks. This is not a true foundation – it’s just a regular 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation. Is this even legal? I am having a hard time understanding how the Park Board can divert funds from the public sector to a private non-profit. This does not look like good government.

The Foundation’s 2006 audited financial statements
( show $87,724 in in-kind donations for staff, rent, and professional services. Was this Park Board staff? Were the taxpayers actually paying the salaries of employees working for a private non-profit?

Minneapolis is blessed with many non-profits that have donated generously to the parks including neighborhood organizations, People for Parks, and Save the Courts Foundation. But taxpayers are not required to support these groups.

There is something truly wrong when the Park Board moves resources from the public sector, where our elected officials decide how these are used and public input is allowed, to the private sector where a small group
of individuals controls the resources. The Foundation for Minneapolis Parks isn’t even a membership organization – the Board appoints its own directors. While I am grateful to the volunteer directors who are trying to raise funds for park purposes, it’s just wrong to divert public funds to the private sector. We need a full accounting of the cash and in-kind donations the Park Board has given this non-profit and a plan for the Foundation to repay the public.


A Park Watch postscript:

It is interesting to note that Park Board employee Don Siggelkow, who was responsible for the Coke contract, wears multiple hats, all of which are related to the Foundation for Minneapolis Parks. There are as follows.

1. Park Board General Manager, a position which places him second in command to Supt. Gurban.

2. Park Board Secretary, which makes him an officer of the Park Board.

3. Treasurer/Secretary of the Foundation for Minneapolis Parks, which makes him an officer of the Foundation.

Clearly these positions can create conflicts of interest. In the case of Coke, it appears that they have.

Arlene Fried


By Arlene Fried
Co-founder of Park Watch

Gov. Tim Pawlenty is not the only government official in Minnesota who is refusing to hand over official correspondence. On April 21 of this year I submitted a Data Request to the MPRB asking for three weeks of Superintendent Jon Gurban’s correspondence. I wanted to see what Supt. Gurban was doing to justify his generous $140,000 salary. My request was on the Park Board’s official form and submitted by U.S. Mail. I was asking for:

“All correspondence (both print & e-mail) generated & received by Supt. Gurban from March 24, 2008, to April 14, 2008.”

As of today, three months later, I am still without a single piece of correspondence generated or received by Supt. Gurban as requested. This is the chronicle of how Supt. Gurban obstructed public access to the requested government documents.

On May 9 the Park Board’s Data Practices compliance representative responded to my request as follows:

“I have received your request for all correspondence (both print and e-mail) generated and received by Supt. Gurban from March 24, 2009 to April 14, 2008. We ask that you please identify what information you are requesting so that I may respond completely.”

I promptly responded by saying that “my request is not related to any specific topic; my request is as stated.”

On June 2, I received the following arrogant and evasive e-mail:

“The status of this request is that we will only respond to a specific request identifying the subject or subjects about which you seek data. This was the reason for my original response sent May 9th seeking more information from you.”

On June 5, I e-mailed the Data Practices compliance representative providing–as requested–the subject of my request:

“You can explain to Supt. Gurban that the identified subject of my request IS Supt. Gurban AND his activities on behalf of the Park Board as demonstrated by his communications (both print and e-mail) in his role as superintendent over a selected 3-week time span. I could have specified a longer time span, but decided to limit it to only the referenced 3-week period.”

Even when I provided the identified subject as requested, no documents were provided. It is clear that Supt. Gurban has no intention of complying with the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act. Having received no responsive documents, I am now more curious than ever about what Supt. Gurban has been doing during this time period and why whatever he was doing could not be shared with the public.

In the meantime, I’ve had no problem with several other Data Requests I’ve submitted to the Park Board, MnDot and the city. In fact, in some instances, the responses have been as prompt as two days.