Monthly Archives: February 2009

Crown Hydro Reneged on Agreement Not to Attempt to Use Eminent Domain

In an agreement filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on Oct 30, 1998, Crown agreed that it would not at any time attempt to use eminent domain to obtain property owned by the Minneapolis Park Board.

In October, 2004 Crown reneged on that agreement and sought to use eminent domain to acquire parkland in Mill Ruin Park.

FERC ruled on February 10, 2005 that Section 21 of the Federal Power Act does not allow eminent domain to be used to acquire property in the Mill Ruins park. Crown, still desiring to use eminent domain, appealed that decision and it is currently pending in the 8th Circuit of the Federal Court of Appeals.

Contrary to what has been represented, Crown does not have a FERC license to operate a hydroplant at the Mill Ruins Park. Their amended application to do so was also turned down on Feb 10, 2005.

A copy of the agreement to not seek eminent domain is attached to this story.
Crown Agree not to Use Eminent Domain.pdf

ANOTHER PARK BOARD MYSTERY

At the February 18, 2009, Park Board meeting, General Manager Don Siggelkow announced that, for the 2009 summer season, the food concession at Lake Harriet Regional Park would be temporarily operated by Wheel Fun. This was a surprise because Wheel Fun is the company that rents bicycles and recreational vehicles at Minnehaha Park and Lake Calhoun and also water bikes at Lake Calhoun.

It is not a food service concessionaire and has had no experience in food service. In a recent article in the Star Tribune, General Manager Siggelkow is quoted as saying “the company does not have a food service background.”

So why would General Manager Siggelkow be giving a company the responsibility for a Park Board food concession when it has had no experience in the handling of, the preparation of and the serving of food? Shouldn’t the public have the confidence that when it purchases food from a Park Board concession that the concessionaire is experienced in the handling, the preparation and the serving of food?

Arlene Fried
Co-founder of Park Watch

OPEN LETTER TO THE MPRB PLANNING COMMITTEE

Dear Chairman Fine and Committee Members Dziedzic, Merrill Anderson, Nordstrom and Young,

We are pleased that the MPRB is recognizing the importance of a Citizens’ Advisory Committee (CAC) for the proposed redo of the North Shore node of the Lake Harriet Regional Park; but disappointed that the charge to the CAC is being limited to only the “schematic design and site” for the proposed and controversial new concession building, which is only one component of the much broader plan for the area.

We would hope that you will recognize the necessity of a review by citizens of all of the changes being proposed by Park Board staff for the entire band shell area.

It is not just the construction of another building that citizens are concerned about, but also the many other alterations referred to in the RFP and the vendor contracts that will dramatically impact the ambiance and character of the area. It is quite disturbing that the MPRB is on the verge of signing new vendor agreements with Sea Salt and Wheel Fun before the public has had an opportunity to be heard and provide input. Why is General Manager Siggelkow so anxious to fast track these agreements?

The Park Board needs to proceed with caution when initiating changes to a site regarded as a major urban landmark. Many of us still have not recovered from the shock of seeing Lake Harriet’s beautiful blue band shell become a bland beige band shell when the public was excluded from this executive decision.

The CAC and the public need to have the opportunity to review all the proposed changes being advocated by MPRB staff. In addition to the construction of a new concession building, these changes include the retrofitting of up to $100,000 of “permanent fixtures” for the interior of the existing refectory; “enhanced” seating; change of menu to seafood themed restaurant; the introduction of alcoholic beverages to the menu; expanded hours; two different food vendors; recreational vehicles and boats to be rented by Wheel Fun, etc.

Furthermore, the CAC needs to also review the congruency and compatibility of these proposed changes with the other new improvements being introduced by People for Parks to the area adjacent to the band shell.

With the exception of the temporary vendor at Lake Harriet’s refectory, no agreements of any kind should be drawn up or signed prior to the CAC review and the subsequent Public Hearing.

Hopefully, you will be understanding of the public’s desire and right to participate in a comprehensive review of the proposed plan for the entire north shore Lake Harriet redo. Accordingly, the CAC’s charge needs to be expanded so that it includes all of the proposed changes.

Thanking you for your consideration of this important matter.

Sincerely,

Harvey Ettinger Arlene Fried
EIRA Resident Bryn Mawr Resident

copy:
MPRB President Tom Nordyke
MPRB Commissioner Carol Kummer
MPRB Commissioner Jon Olson
MPRB Commissioner Scott Vreeland
Mayor R.T. Rybak
Council Member Betsy Hodges
Dan Woychick, East Harriet Neighborhood Assn.
Kathy Urberg, Linden Hills Neighborhood Assn.
NIcole Tommerdahl, Minneapolis Star Tribune
Sam Barnes, Minneapolis Star Tribune
Metropolitan Council Member Peggy Leppik

PROPOSED NEW CONSTRUCTION AT LAKE HARRIET POSTPONED

The following article by Nicole Tommerdahl appeared in the February 13th, 2009 issue of the Star Tribune.

LAKE HARRIET MAY GET NEW ATTRACTION: SEAFOOD PLACE

The Minneapolis Park Board is considering adding fish, oysters and $10 crab cakes to the menu at Lake Harriet Park in a restaurant that would be an upscale addition to the popcorn, ice cream and hot-dog concessions already available there.

The proposed change, which is still awaiting Park Board approval, would introduce a seafood eatery and new concession building to the park, probably next year.

The board’s contract with the current concession operator expired at the end of 2008, giving the board the opportunity to revamp the park’s atmosphere. Park Board officials were set to introduce two new vendors to the park this spring, but they announced this week that they will delay the project for up to a year in order to hear more citizen input on the proposed changes.

Bob Fine, Park Board commissioner for the Lake Harriet area, said there are still questions that need to be answered, including financial issues. He said the board plans to assemble a citizen advisory committee of about 12 residents to make an independent assessment of the project and report back to the board.

“It’s not a bad proposal, but I’d rather hear from people before we do it,” Fine said.

The decision to delay the project will be up for a Park Board vote Wednesday, Fine said. In the meantime, he said, the company that runs the concessions at Lake Calhoun will be installed as a temporary vendor for the usual concessions this season.

“It’ll take some time, but we’ll have time to do it,” Fine said. “This way we’re not going to be rushed.”

Under the proposed plan, Sea Salt Eatery — which should be familiar with those who go to Minnehaha Falls Park, where Sea Salt has a similar restaurant — would renovate the park’s existing concession building for its new restaurant. A new building would be built along the water’s edge, between the bandshell and the yacht club, and would continue to offer traditional concession foods such as popcorn and ice cream, items that would be impractical to serve in Sea Salt, Park Board General Manager Don Siggelkow said.

The plan would provide residents with a better park experience while attracting non-Minneapolis residents, Siggelkow said. Sea Salt’s Minnehaha Falls park location and a similar eatery operated by another company near Lake Calhoun each generate roughly $75,000 in annual revenue, he said.

In the new concession area, the park board would replace Lake Harriet concessionaire Schwick Inc. with Wheel Fun, a national franchise that rents bicycles, water bikes and recreational vehicles. Wheel Fun already rents canoes at lakes Harriet and Calhoun, Siggelkow said, and though the company does not have a food-service background, he said he is confident Wheel Fun can handle the basic concession foods the stand would offer.

Some area residents have expressed concern about the proposals to add a restaurant and a new concessions building. Arlene Fried, co-founder of the park board watchdog group Minneapolis Park Watch, questioned whether it would bring too many people into one area.

“How can this small area accommodate Rollerbladers, walkers, runners, bikers, sailors, concert-goers, pedestrians?” she asked. “You’ve got a huge amount of activity there, but these are things that will increase congestion.”

Mike Festa and Mitzi Biondich, who often walk their dog around Lake Harriet, said the proposed changes could detract from the look of the park. Festa said he was also concerned that the park could end up with a vacant structure if the venture isn’t successful.

“I don’t know that people come here for high-end seafood,” Biondich also said. “There’s so much more right around here, too.”

Fine said that he hadn’t heard any particular residential outcry about the proposed project, but that he knows how important the park is to area residents. He said he knew there would be concerns from residents, and he was among the park board commissioners who felt it would be better to delay the project.

Links: http://www.mplsparkwatch.org, http://www.minneapolisparks.org

Nicole Tommerdahl is a University of Minnesota journalism student on assignment for the Star Tribune.

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE FEBRUARY 4, 2009, PARK BOARD MEETING

Selected Highlights:

MINTAHOE’S HEADQUARTER’S LEASE. In spite of citizens’ concerns, the Board went ahead and voted on a five-year lease with Mintahoe Hospitality Group for the space in the MPRB Headquarters Building that was previously occupied by Twin City Catering. The lease with the new tenant reflects a SPACE REDUCTION of 7,700 square feet and a LOSS for the MPRB of approximately $90,000 per year in rent.

When the commissioners approved the lease with Mintahoe, who already has an existing catering lease with the MPRB for the Nicollet Island Pavilion, they did so with full knowledge that Mintahoe still owes Hennepin County $67,000 in delinquent taxes, plus substantial penalties and interest.
Delinquent taxes are generally considered a red flag in business.

Citizens’ Data Practices Requests to the Park Board for evidence showing that Mintahoe has been paying its rent to the Park Board according to the terms of its lease have been ignored by Park Board staff. No information has been provided in response to Data Practices Requests for information about rent payments made by Mintahoe to the Park Board, including checks and deposit slips.

When Park Board staff will not respond to citizens’ request for relevant public data, how can taxpayers be assured that the Park Board is protecting the public’s interests?

CROWN HYDRO. During Brian Rice’s Legislative Report to the commissioners, Commissioner Tracy Nordstrom asked Brian Rice about Crown Hydro’s rumored attempts to enact special legislation to circumvent the Park Board’s authority to protect park land. Brian Rice responded by pointing out that former Vice President Walter Mondale, who is opposed to the Crown Hydro project, has called key members of the legislature and advised them that from his perspective as a former Minnesota Attorney General and member of the legislature, the action proposed by Crown Hydro was unprecedented and to oppose it.

It is important to note that when Crown Hydro came before the Park Board on two previous occasions, it was voted down.

Park Watch has learned that longtime Crown Hydro lobbyist Robert Hentges and his team have been replaced by the lobbying team of John Derus, Judy Blaseg and Nikki Carlson. Nikki Carlson is the Hennepin County DFL chair.

There definitely is some irony here. The man behind Crown Hydro is Bill Hawks, a Republican–and the man whose Lake Minnetonka estate was the site for the 2006 Michelle Bachmann fundraiser whose main attraction was former Vice President Dick Cheney. It was during this event that several protesting environmentalists were arrested as reported by the Star Tribune. The scent of money makes for strange bedfellows.

Arlene Fried
Co-founder of Park Watch

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COMING SOON TO LAKE HARRIET: SEAFOOD AND/OR POPCORN?

The following three articles by reporters Cristof Traudes and Jake Weyer appeared in the February 9, 2009, edition of the Southwest Journal. However, it is important to note that Park Watch has learned that the Lake Calhoun South Shore Parking and Plaza project is categorized by the Park Board as a capital project–and NOT a maintenance project as stated in the article. The reporter was provided incorrect information.

LAKE HARRIET

After what was a more-public-than-usual process to find a new vendor for the Lake Harriet Concession, commissioners appeared surprised when the outcome meant not simply moving in a new tenant — it meant building a new structure.

At a Jan. 21 committee meeting, Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board staff brought forward a lease with Sea Salt Seafood Eatery, the same company that operates a seafood restaurant at Minnehaha Park, to bring its product to Lake Harriet. Commissioners appeared pleased. But staff also proposed a lease with another company to continue providing popcorn and ice cream — Lake Harriet staples, Commissioner Bob Fine said.

There’s just one hitch: For the two vendors to work at the same site, a small but new building has to be put up, staff said. The size of the popcorn machine and the freezers make it impossible to keep them in the same space as the seafood eatery.

Park Board commissioners were caught off-guard. Fine said he didn’t know until the meeting that there would be two companies involved in the proposal. He also didn’t know the board was expected to put up a new structure that doesn’t even have a cost estimate attached to it yet.

“It seems like it’s the cart before the horse here,” a visibly concerned Commissioner Annie Young said. She was bothered that the board could bind itself into building something by approving a lease despite knowing few details. “I don’t know how we’re going to build a building. I keep being told that we don’t have any money.”

In preliminary plans, the new structure would be a round, beige building that would be about 22 feet in diameter. Fine said it would be located between the Lake Harriet Band Shell and where boats are loaded.

There is no strict timeline, but without action, Lake Harriet could end up ice cream and popcorn-free this summer. At the same time, Fine said, the public needs to be allowed time to have a say.

COMMUNITY CONCERNS WON’T STOP REBUILD OF CALHOUN LOT

A makeover of the south-shore parking lot on Lake Calhoun is scheduled to begin this summer, despite community concerns that the project was moved ahead with little input.

The deteriorating lot has been in need of repair for years, park staff said. Plans call for a smaller, reconfigured lot situated farther east, realignment and improved separation of the bike and pedestrian trails, an entry plaza with a lake and skyline overlook, rain gardens and a variety of new plantings.

Because it was categorized as a maintenance project, park staff was not required to seek public input or Park Board approval. That left some community members feeling blindsided by what they argue is more than repair.

“This isn’t a maintenance issue. It really isn’t,” said Marissa Lasky, a member of the Calhoun Windsurfing Association. “This isn’t a repaving.”

Lasky said the project as planned would affect windsurfers’ ability to setup and launch from the south shore. Finding a spot with enough room, the right wind and a walkable lakebed can be difficult, she said.

Project Manager Andrea Weber said the windsurfing group has been heard and some minor modifications were made to the plans to better accommodate the sport.

However, “it’s being designed for the general public.” Weber said. “It’s not being designed for a specific group.”

Lasky said she’s concerned for more than windsurfers. Anyone who uses the parks and lakes should have been able to get involved in the lot’s development, she said.

“We want to see public input always being at the forefront of things happening on Lake Calhoun or Lake Harriet or other lakes,” she said.

Lasky said a member of her group wrote a letter to park staff about the concerns. She planned to do so as well. But Weber said the project would move forward as planned.

The Metropolitan Council is funding the rebuild.

COMMITTEE VOTES TO ALLOW CATERING LEASE CHANGE

Twin City Catering is gone.

The largely picnic-oriented business that operated from the first floor of the Park Board’s headquarters saw its lease terminated by a committee on Jan. 21, with a full board vote expected on Feb. 4.

The company’s faltering meeting room space is expected to go back to being the Park Board’s — those 7,200 square feet will no longer be used for events.

But there still will be a catering business at 2117 West River Road. It’ll just have a different, albeit familiar, name: In December, Twin City Catering merged with Mintahoe Catering Group, perhaps best known in Park Board circles as the exclusive caterer at the Nicollet Island Pavilion.

Both Twin City and Mintahoe made the news last year for experiencing small controversies.

Mintahoe got into hot water after it was discovered violating its lease by moving its headquarters into the pavilion. Twin City, meanwhile, was found never to have been assessed personal property taxes — an accusation from a Park Board watchdog group that ended up revealing that many private businesses on public land, including all of those on parkland, never had been assessed those distinctive taxes.

(Twin City has since been assessed and has paid off all of its taxes. Mintahoe as of late January still owed the entirety of its $67,188.65 bill, plus $10,074.68 in penalties.)

Those issues reared their heads when commissioners were asked to approve a lease naming Mintahoe as the new West River Road tenant. President Tom Nordyke repeatedly asked staff to make sure the Park Board wasn’t helping organizations avoid paying their taxes, despite General Manager Don Siggelkow’s assurance that that wasn’t the case.

“It’s not our issue,” Siggelkow said. “It’s personal.”

But Nordyke and other commissioners said a new lease with Mintahoe needed to include some sort of assurance. Commissioner Bob Fine proposed a clause holding the company accountable for paying its taxes.

“It’s not our responsibility,” Vice President Mary Merrill Anderson said. “But we don’t want to be fostering a non-payment.

“As a public entity, we rely on taxes. So we want to make sure we support everyone paying their taxes.”