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


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.


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