Monthly Archives: August 2009



The following items by Cristof Traudes appeared in the August 24, 2009, issue of the Southwest Journal:


A citizens’ advisory committee investigating the future of concessions at Lake Harriet has scheduled its next meeting for 7–9 p.m. Sept. 3. It will be held at the Linden Hills Recreation Center, 3100 43rd St. W., and be open to the public.

Crews were expected to begin work before August’s end on the overhaul of a parking lot on the south shore of Lake Calhoun.

Park Board commissioners on Aug. 5 approved a $319,919.15 bid from Veit and Company Inc. It was the first time the project had come before the board.

Parks staff, which developed the plans, has maintained the project amounts to maintenance, a classification that meant commissioners didn’t have to sign off on any of the plans. Critics have said the classification is a stretch, considering the work includes the installation of rain gardens and permeable pavers on the lot’s north side, and that the project’s development should have involved a more public process.

“Substantial completion” of construction is expected by November. It’s being paid for with regional parks money designated for operations and maintenance.

Election Could Spell End for Park Board Watchdogs


The following article by Cristof Traudes was published in the August 24, 2009, issue of the Southwest Journal:

Bob Fine is a longtime commissioner on the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. Arlene Fried is a watchdog who often calls out Fine for his actions.

The two almost never see eye to eye, but this year is different. In rare agreement, they want the same thing in 2010: for Park Watch, Fried’s watchdog group, to come to an end.

Of course, they disagree on how to get to that point.

Fine, a 12-year veteran of the Park Board, considers Park Watch trouble. He’s had a long-standing belief that the group does little more than find fault, taking up too much of Park Board commissioners’ and staff’s time while sowing unfounded seeds of wrong-doing in commissioners’ minds.

He cites the hundreds of open-records requests filed by Park Watch members since the group’s formation in 2004. Park Watch members accounted for more than half of 275 data requests since late 2006. To fill those requests — which have ranged from asking for video footage of meetings to wanting all information, letters and e-mails applying to one or multiple topics — can take many hours of staff time, said John Goodrich, who oversees the Park Board’s responses.

Fine also points to frequent prodding on such issues as the recent Lake Calhoun south shore parking lot makeover, a project that parks staff has continuously referred to as maintenance but Park Watch members are convinced is a capital upgrade.

Fine dislikes Park Watch so much, he only refers to them as Park Fault.

“To me, what’s most important is to see the Park Board not controlled by these groups. I don’t think have the best interest of the Park Board in mind,” he said.

When he announced in July that he was running for another term on the Park Board, he said one of his main motivations was to prevent the arrival of more commissioners who listen to Park Watch. Prevent that, he said, and maybe the group will have little to no influence next year.

He has an uphill battle: For the first time, two Park Watch affiliates, people who have personally filed numerous data requests and have attended Park Board meetings for years, are seeking seats on the board. One of them, District 4’s Anita Tabb, is practically a lock to win — nobody else filed to run in her race.

Fried couldn’t be happier. If Park Watch co-founder Liz Wielinski, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party’s endorsed candidate for District 1, also were to win, Fried said there’s a good possibility her watchdog group won’t be necessary anymore. The reason for all of the group’s data practices requests is that the current Park Board commissioners aren’t getting all of the information they need and aren’t asking for it, either, Fried said. Wielinski and Tabb already know to ask questions, which she expects them to continue to do if they were on the board.

“We would finally have a board that really supports the basics of good government,” Fried said.

Tabb anticipates still talking to Park Watch if she were seated, although she’s hesitant about being referred to as a Park Watch candidate. She isn’t endorsed by the group — unlike in 2005, it won’t endorse anybody this year — and she said she never officially was a member. But she said she does listen to and respect the group. Its members, Tabb said, genuinely care about the future of the parks.

“I expect all of those relationships to continue,” she said.

Wielinski doesn’t expect her work on the board to be much different from what she does now. Her goal with Park Watch, she said, always was to steer the Park Board in a better direction. Yes, that could take on a negative tone, but the job isn’t to celebrate accomplishments.

“It’s a watchdog group,” Wielinski said. “It’s not P.R. for the Park Board.”

When asked what she thought having Tabb and Wielinski elected to the board would mean, Fried sounded near ecstatic.

“I’d have to laugh,” she said. “We’d have two of our people right there, on the board.”

For Park Watch, it would be “mission accomplished,” she said.

What is Park Watch?

Park Watch is a watchdog group that tracks the actions of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. Its members say they’ve improved civic discourse by drawing attention to votes that otherwise might have passed with little public comment; critics accuse them of spreading disinformation and intimidating parks staff.

The group formed in the wake of the Park Board’s hiring of Superintendent Jon Gurban, who had neither applied for the job nor gone through a screening process. Members take notes at meetings and then disseminate selected information and analysis through its blog, letters to the editor and on the online Minneapolis Issues List.

Arlene Fried, the most vocal of Park Watch’s co-founders, often speaks in strong terms when describing the Park Board, especially when it comes to high-level staff. Her words of choice include “egregious” and “outrageous.”



The petition presented last week to the City Council and Charter Commission proposes this amendment to the city charter:

“The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board shall be a separate and independent governmental unit of the state of Minnesota with an elected board of commissioners. The Park and Recreation Board shall preserve and protect park land, lakes and open spaces as a public trust forever and shall have all powers and rights of a separate and independent governmental unit of the state as determined by the state Legislature.”


The following editorial about the Park Board’s’ campaign for independence appeared in the August 17, 2009, issue of the Star Tribune:

“Save Our Parks” is the slogan for the campaign that has sprung up in Minneapolis this summer for a charter change proposal that appears headed for the Nov. 3 ballot. It’s a slogan bound to resonate with voters whose pride in the city’s exceptional parks runs deep.

But it’s also misleading. If a petition drive succeeds, the question on the ballot won’t be about preserving any threatened parks. None faces an imminent threat. The prospect that any will face elimination in the future seems remote, even if the future brings considerable strain on city finances. Minneapolis voters seem much inclined to smite any politician who would dare to try to balance the city budget by selling parks.

What the nascent “Save Our Parks” campaign is really about is enhancing the taxing power of the elected Park and Recreation Board, the better to insulate park funding from the city’s broader budget challenges. Created 126 years ago with an end-run to the Legislature around a foot-dragging City Council, the Park Board in modern times has lacked full authority to levy property taxes.

That is what the proposed ballot question would give it. And that’s why R.T. Rybak, a park-loving, politically savvy mayor who is seeking a third term this year, issued an alarm as a supersized bundle of petitions was delivered to City Hall one week ago. The proposed amendment could result in “huge tax increases without accountability,” the mayor’s statement said. It “would give an independent body unlimited power to raise property taxes without fixing the core challenges facing our parks.”

What challenges? Rybak mentioned the usual ones: the need to improve water quality, recreation facilities and youth sports programs.

But the people behind the petition, Citizens for Independent Parks, see more challenges than that. They know well that the city is under heavy financial pressure because of the recession, state aid cuts and a pension program that’s badly in need of reform. They recognize that with its current quasi-independent status, the Park Board will be compelled to share in the city’s financial pain.

That appears to be true whether or not the voters approve another charter amendment already headed toward the ballot, eliminating the city’s levy-setting Board of Estimate and Taxation. That board reconciles the levy requests of the Park Board and the City Council. Though it has two independently elected members, it has been dominated in recent years by the mayor and City Council. The Park Board has but one of six seats.

Still, it was the prospect that the Board of Estimate and Taxation might be eliminated by the voters this November, and its levy-setting power assumed by the City Council, that inspired the petition for a truly independent Park Board. The Park Board has little sway over the setting of the city’s property tax levy now. Its leaders fear that they would have none if the City Council assumes the taxation board’s role — and that a slow starvation of city parks would commence.

That is far from a clear and present danger. But it’s a worry that is animating the petition drive. The effort has a number of respected former city officials behind it, including former Mayors Don Fraser and Sharon Sayles Belton. As he helped deliver 17,086 signatures to City Hall, Fraser said, “To let the parks fall into a period in which they are not adequately supported would be a tragedy.”

Indeed it would. But if, as appears likely, the Park Board charter amendment lands on city ballots this November, what will be needed is a thoughtful debate about whether “adequate” support for parks will be better defined by a City Council balancing all the city’s needs and resources or by a Park Board enabled to raise taxes on its own.

Park Board Completes Sale of the 201 Building

The following article by James Shiffer appeared on the Star Tribune website July 22, 2009. A more detailed history of the 201 Building fiasco was posted on Park Watch on October 14, 2008.


Last year, Whistleblower described how a long-vacant property owned by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board would become an urban base camp for the Northern Star Council of the Boy Scouts of America. The Boy Scouts bought the old cavalry building last year, and on June 24, the council closed on the second parcel, finishing the deal and ending the park board’s nine-year history with the property, said Don Siggelkow, park board general manager.

The sale of the old cavalry building and an adjacent parcel brought the park board $4.2 million, approximately the same amount the park board spent on acquisition, legal fees and other associated costs, Siggelkow said. The money went straight to the city to pay off the bonds used to acquire the property, he said.

Despite many uses envisioned for the property – a field house, a practice arena for the Minnesota Wild, a privately-developed skateboard park – it never did more than serve as storage for lawn mowers and other equipment. After the skateboard park deal fell apart, the park board even ended up paying $900,000 to settle a lawsuit – despite the fact that no public money was supposed to go into the project. Siggelkow said that the Boy Scouts’ plans for it fulfills the park board’s original intent to use the property for “recreational amenities.”

Still, he said the park board has learned a lesson from its experience with the old Drill Hall, also known as the “201 Building.” It’s difficult for a private developer to pull off a project when the park board retains ownership of the property, Siggelkow said. “If you’re going to pursue a private venture, we probably ought to consider a different mechanism.”

The experience with Drill Hall hasn’t deterred the park board from pursuing “enterprise” projects. Siggelkow said the board’s focus is now on the proposal to construct a new restaurant concession at Lake Harriet, the subject of a citizens’ committee that’s expected to wrap up its work in September.



Feasibility of public ownership of Crown Hydro’s power plant project is the subject of a staff report by Don Siggelkow and Judd Rietkerk to be presented at the Park Board meeting on August 5, 2009, at Elliot Park Recreation Center, 1000 E. 14th Street. Because the meeting is offsite, it will not be televised.

The MPRB has voted Crown Hydro down twice. Now Crown Hydro is coming back to the Board with another proposal: one that resembles a corporate buyout. Crown Hydro is proposing now that the Park Board buy them out and assume ownership of the power plant. In other words, the Park Board would be in the utility business.

Siggelkow says one of the positive aspects of the project would be that it would promote the ability of the Park Board “to get off the grid.” But the Park Board doesn’t get the electricity generated; Xcel does. So how does that help the Park Board “get off the grid”?

The staff report will be presented during the Planning Committee, which is chaired by Bob Fine who has been one of three park board commissioners who have been staunch supporters of the Crown Hydro project. The committee chairman has control over what issues are placed on his committee agenda. So it was natural that Crown would have an easy entre back onto the Park Board’s agenda via Bob’s Planning Committee.

It is interesting to note that the staff person driving this idea is General Manager Don Siggelkow, whose track record is not perfect. Two of his major “enterprise” projects (the 201 Building at Fort Snelling and the Fuji-ya/The Wave on the river) were costly failures that became entangled in expensive litigation. In fact, after standing empty for the entire eight years of Park Board ownership, the sale of the 201 Building was finally completed on June 24, 2009. With all the expenses accrued during the eight years the MPRB owned the 201 Building, the MPRB, at best, broke even. The Wave is still in litigation. Enterprise projects are supposed to make money for the Park Board, not cost money.

So Siggelkow is now preparing to explore the feasibility of public ownership of a power plant by the Park Board. But in his outline, there is no mention about how the Park Board would pay for it or if buying and owning a power plant is even economically feasible for the Park Board.

The Planning Committee follows the regular meeting, which begins at 5:00 p.m. For more information, click on the Park Board’s website

Arlene Fried
Co-founder of Park Watch



One of the items on the agenda for the August 5, 2009, Park Board meeting will be the Board’s approval of a contract with Veit & Company for $319,919.00 for the construction of the Lake Calhoun Regional Park’s redesigned and rebuilt South Parking Lot, a capital improvement project that staff and Commissioner Bob Fine have mischaracterized as maintenance so that they could avoid citizen participation in the planning process.

The staff did consult with the windsurfers, but there never was a public meeting to inform the public of the newly designed rain gardens, paths and parking lot and to solicit feedback. Walkers, runners, rollerbladers and bikers were ignored. Construction is scheduled to begin August 10 and continue into November.

The construction will have an impact on windsurfing. With the south parking lot closed, windsurfers will probably use an area near Thomas Beach as a launching site. Because this site has its challenges, only the more experienced windsurfers will be on the lake when the winds are coming from the north, and less experienced windsurfers will avoid Calhoun.

The Park Board meeting will begin at 5:00 p.m. It will not be televised because it is being held off site at the Elliot Park Recreation Center, 1000 E. 14th Street. For more information, click on the Park Board’s website

Arlene Fried
Co-founder of Park Watch



Here’s a very brief capsule review of the Lake Harriet community meeting that was held on July 30, 2009, at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Linden Hills. The meeting was well attended and Matt Perry and the Lake Harriet Citizens’ Advisory Council (CAC) members did a stellar job with the informational materials. It was an emotional meeting and Matt did an excellent job of responding to the requests for a Q and A period. The restaurant idea was not flying nor was the idea of a new building. People really care about Lake Harriet and the band shell area and expressed numerous concerns about the idea of a restaurant on the site and the problems that it would bring. They also offered a quite a few constructive ideas–some in writing and some orally.

The following unofficial notes were taken during the meeting by Cynthia Callanan from the Kingfield neighborhood:

Lake Harriet Community Meeting
July 30, 2009

Matt Perry opened with a powerpoint presentation (see handout of presentation slides from meeting, or look on CAC ning website for a copy)

(slide title) How we got here: concessions fund youth programs and facilities

(slide title) Lake Harriet CAC – all proposals off the table, start over from scratch with new recommendations

(slide title) CAC Key Questions – Matt is committed to community participation.

(slide title) CAC work to date – stakeholder engagement plan; provided information to the public; gathered input and information

(slide title) Operations: Future Food Choices – public contribution will influence the CAC recommendation but they are not asking about food choices, that will be up to the vendor who is chosen in the bidding process.

(slide title) Current food choices – Park Board is committed to keeping the current food choices – particularly ice cream and popcorn

Matt Perry comment: Alcohol – elephant in the room, CAC notified by Don Siggelkow that if alcohol is going to be considered at Lake Harriet, it will only be after several years of successful business operations.
George – liquor license representative from the city, also resident of the neighborhood was present to answer questions.

(slide title) Structural Considerations –( blue form handed out at meeting, maybe also available on CAC ning website) – CAC has not determined if any of them are feasible, except for # 6, which is what the Park Board already proposed. That one has feasibility.


Q 1: If you are asking us for feedback on structural issues, it seems that you have already made your mind up.
Matt: This meeting is to expand the CAC – we want to get ideas from you.

Q 2: Why did the previous concessionaire pull out? We need to know before we start a new concession there.
Shane: The lease was up, they are renewed every 5-10 years, we don’t know why he chose not to renew. Private enterprise. He chose to concentrate on his other business.


Matt then explains how the evening was designed: It is time for everyone to go to the various tables and write down their input. There are CAC members at each table to talk to.There will be no more Q and A.

Comment 3: This meeting is designed NOT to be open to hear from people except in writing.The website has no discussion board, public cannot speak when they attend the CAC meetings.

At this point Matt opened up the meeting to allow various people to comment and ask questions. Each comment below is from a different member of the audience.

Comment 4: Nothing in the slides that talks about the impact on the neighborhood or environmental impacts

Comment 5: we are talking about traffic, people, debris.

Anne: We went out and surveyed people around the lake.

Comment 6: Did those people surveyed have the facts first?

Comment 7: People don’t want to ask questions (of Matt and other CAC members tonight), we want to give input. Very concerned about congestion that already exists. Not enough handicapped spaces to park. This would create more congestion around lake Harriet.

Comment 8: Nothing in the plans about increased seating, and would tables be restricted to patrons of the concessionaire?

Comment 9: Concerned about green space, visibility toward the lake, no way we can put in a building without losing that.

Comment 10: How do we have input to the website and meetings going forward:? Separate issue – going forward, can we have a discussion board on website, input at the CAC meetings?

Comment 11: Not considering alcohol now, but Sea Salt and Tin Fish got alcohol within a few years. It is a reasonable assumption that it will be part of the future.

Matt: There is a public process when liquor is considered.

Comment 12: If you stand down there at Tin Fish or Sea Salt, it smells like grease. If you live close, depending on how it’s vented, that’s what you are going to smell.

Comment 13: What have you done so far at CAC meetings?

Matt: – organize themselves, stakeholder engagement plan, what are the economics of concessions, structural considerations and response from park board staff.
Started thinking that they would have 4 meetings, but because they wanted community input, they expanded to six meetings.

Comment 14: Negative energy in the room. I’m glad that we are considering some changes to the concessions. We need healthier food options at LH. Doesn’t have to smell like grease, glad we are looking at this.

Comment 15: Sailor on Lake Harriet and Lake Calhoun. The other night friends called to see if they could use my driveway to go to a concert. Why do we need to draw more people from the suburbs I do not believe the Park Board, they lie. 2 million dollar bldg on the river that no one ever asked us about.

Comment 16: What is wrong with what we have? Why do anything new?

Comment 17: Very concerned about the impact on generating more garbage, more grease, less green space. Clancy’s Meats. Makes meat sandwiches, paper that is compostable. Would like to be in the running for a lease to concession in the refectory. Increasing food offerings to healthier options in an educational way.

Comment 18: Build on the comment on food – local and sustainable. Is there anything we need to know about – limits, no national chains, are there any regulations? Make sure park board commissioners know how you feel.

Matt: CAC will not be making a recommendation with that specificity. We will submit your recommendations with our recommendations. Go to website and write or call. 612-839-3320 call Matt Perry personally.

Comment 19: What is the status for 2009? How long a lease do they have?

Matt: Wheel Fun – same guys who do the rentals, have a 1 year lease – that’s who is in there now. Park Board wanted to have public participation process, so we will have someone there while we work on this process.

Comment 20: How many people come to the bandshell.

Matt: About 2.3 million a year. Our data from our survey is mirroring the park board. 30% from neighborhood and 60% from outside.

Comment 21: What is the Goal – better food options? Restaurant is not needed, it has been successful without a restaurant in that location.

Comment 22: Opposed to new building, but must thank the CAC members who are volunteers – applause

Comment 23: WheelFun – operates concessions do not have food experience, others who bid to do food this year were not considered for this one year.

Matt: Talk to Shane about that.

Comment 24: Concern – lack of publicity and public relations. Had to go through several SW Journals to find notices of the CAC meetings. Need to have someone designated to make sure that everything you are doing is reported to the community.

Comment 25: Part of what you are feeling is that things with the park board disappear into a black hole. I want to know that you will not lose this feedback.

Matt: Our relationship with Park Board is not adversarial.

Comment 26: Option of looking for another person to lease to maintain the present level of service needs to be out there. Many reasons – my reason it is a small site, cannot bear a restaurant, not enough parking, not enough space. Picnic tradition is what we want to maintain. Not compatible with a restaurant.

Comment 27: When we looked at the various options and costs – anything that costs money. The more money invested, the more money is expected in return. Concessionaire wants more flexibility Once a lot of money has been put into expansion, park board is going to expect more revenue. Then the business that is in there is going to ask for more – like a liquor license. We need to be very cautious about any expansion. A very slippery slope.

Comment 28: We are the vocal minority. Cards went out to 6,000 to 6,500 homes. Number of people who haven’t shown up. Lots who come to the lakes. Park dept has done a good job with other two restaurants. Clean sites, food is well made, Enjoy the smell of grease. I hope we have something similar but unique , alcohol would be great. Lake Harriet is an adult neighborhood it will not turn into another Uptown, will increase property value. [some boos from the audience]

Arlene – the park board does have guidelines, after the report comes in, there will be a public hearing available to everyone in the city, that will be another opportunity to react to the CAC has presented. There will be that opportunity as well.

The meeting broke up to allow people to write comments on post it notes.