Monthly Archives: October 2012

Minneapolis' " Antiquated Facilities" Can't Match Suburban Recreation Attractions

The following article by Karen Boros was published in the October 31, 2012 issue of MinnPost: http://www.minnpost.com/

MINNEAPOLIS’ ‘ANTIQUATED FACILITIES’ CAN’T MATCH SUBURBAN RECREATION ATTRACTIONS

The St. Louis Park Recreation Center, just a bike ride away from Minneapolis, has a huge outdoor aquatic park, two indoor ice rinks, two banquet rooms, indoor skateboarding and a full menu of sports leagues.

When the suburb next door has a very fancy aquatic park, Minneapolis residents are willing to forget about the ukulele lessons and ballet classes offered for 3-year olds at their neighborhood recreation center and cross the city line for a taste of the plush life in the ’burbs.

“We have antiquated facilities,” the city’s superintendent of Parks and Recreation told members of the City Council’s Ways and Means/Budget Committee.

Superintendent Jayne Miller described nearby state-of-the-art water parks and indoor climbing walls as amenities that draw Minneapolis residents to suburban facilities. “The suburbs,” she said Tuesday, “have much more comprehensive programs.”

Minneapolis operates 47 recreation centers but does not have the resources necessary to staff and fund activity levels to compete with the suburbs, according to the department’s budget book presented. To this end, the Park and Recreation Board will begin a two-year process to study the problem and come up with a plan in 2014. Already the department predicts that seven centers will be reducing their service hours from 28 to 14 a week, based on size of the facility and current use. Some of the centers were not originally designed for recreation.

“If my child wants a certain kind of water experience, it’s not the end of the world if I cross over to St. Louis Park to get that experience,” said Council Member Cam Gordon, who suggested the park board seek regional partnerships.

Unlike Minneapolis’ system of rec centers, many suburbs opt for one large center with many attractions. The St. Louis Park Recreation Center, just a bike ride away from Minneapolis, has a huge outdoor aquatic park, two indoor ice rinks, two banquet rooms, indoor skateboarding and a full menu of sports leagues.

“We are missing the boat in many areas,” said Miller who noted that one of the challenges facing Minneapolis is likely public criticism over the cut in hours because the rec centers are closely tied to neighborhoods.

Miller would not speculate which centers might be candidates for reduced hours or what new programs might be added. The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board expects to approve a 2013 budget that has a zero increase in property tax use.

Making Way for Light Rail

The following article by Dylan Thomas was published in the October 29, 2012 issue of the Southwest Journal:

Making Way for Light Rail

If all goes as planned, the Southwest Light Rail Transit line projected to open in 2018 will zip riders from Target Field to the West Lake Street station in less than eight minutes and complete its 15-mile run to Eden Prairie in just over half-an-hour.

Three-car trains will make the trip, in one on direction or the other, nearly 200 times each day. Each of them will pass within 20 feet or so of the front door of John Erickson’s townhouse in the Cedar-Isles-Dean neighborhood, not even a stone’s throw from tracks that now carry just few lumbering freight trains.

All things considered, one might say Erickson is being magnanimous when he says, “If you did this right … it’s a win-win for everybody.”

But Erickson offers a caveat, and it’s one on the minds of residents all along the Kenilworth railroad corridor these days: “By ‘right,’ I mean if you mitigated it properly.”

The Oct. 12 release of the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) on the LRT line kicked-off a 60-day public comment period on its findings, and groups of neighbors in West Calhoun, CIDNA, Kenwood rushed to dissect the 1,000-page document and prepare their responses before the Dec. 11 deadline. They’ll be asking for protections from noise, vibrations and other impacts where the line runs past homes, parks, lakes and historic properties all packed more closely together than on most suburban sections of the route.

The line also passes through Bryn Mawr, but there the emphasis shifts from protection to development. A future light rail line could be a key piece in the Bassett Creek Valley redevelopment, a long-range plan to build office space and housing on city-owned land just west of downtown.

SIGNS OF PROGRESS

Hennepin County Commissioner Gail Dorfman called the release of the study a “significant milestone” for what would be the region’s third light rail line after Hiawatha, which opened in 2004, and the Central Corridor line, set to begin operation in 2014. The new line would tie in directly to the Central Corridor for one non-stop connection between Eden Prairie and downtown St. Paul.

A week earlier, the White House announced Southwest LRT would be included in its “We Can’t Wait” initiative on transportation projects. It’s anticipated to shave several months off of the planning process.

“It feels like after many, many delays and sort of fits and starts that everything is lining up now,” Dorfman said.

The $1.25-billion rail project would improve connections between the core cities and the southwestern suburbs, get thousands of drivers out of their cars and onto light rail trains and spur economic development along the 15-mile corridor, according to the study. It finds the pros for jobs and the environment outweigh the cons, including moderate to severe noise impacts for hundreds of homes and businesses close to the rail line in Minneapolis.

The preferred alignment enters the city just west of Lake Calhoun and runs to downtown along the Kenilworth Corridor, the same rail pathway followed by the Cedar Lake Trail for bicycles and pedestrians. The study considers several alternative alignments, but concludes they would add significant cost without increasing benefits.

The study also supports relocation of freight rail from the Kenilworth Corridor to St. Louis Park. Making room for both in the same rail corridor would require the acquisition of about 60 housing units, including those of Erickson and his neighbors, and could disturb parkland near Cedar Lake, it notes.

POINTS OF CONCERN

Assuming freight rail will go and his townhouse will remain, Erickson’s focus now minimizing the noise, vibrations and visual impact of passing light rail cars.

“For us, the primary thing is a physical barrier between us and the train,” he said.

It’s the same story in Kenwood, further north, where neighbors have discussed using landscaping or trees to limit noise impacts. Residents on one dead-end block of Upton Avenue South are also concerned about access to their homes, which can only be reached by crossing tracks on the Kenilworth Corridor.

One of them, Ned Foster, said routing both freight and light rail on the corridor “would be a disaster.”

A significant concern in both CIDNA and Kenwood is the proposed Cedar Lake Parkway crossing. Plans in the study call for a 30-foot-high bridge with ramps extending about 300 feet in either direction, but Kenwood and CIDNA residents want future engineering studies to consider a tunnel.

In West Calhoun, already a crossroads for shoppers and commuters, traffic and station access are both concerns. West Lake Street may be one of the busiest stations on the entire line, and residents don’t want rail commuters parking all day on congested neighborhood streets, said Meg Forney of the West Calhoun Neighborhood Council.

The city is generally opposed to park-and-ride lots within Minneapolis, but Peter Wagenius, an aide to Mayor R.T. Rybak, said West Lake Street may be the one location where a park-and-ride makes sense.

Superintendent Releases Park Board Budget with Flat Tax Levy

The following article by Nick Halter was published in the Southwest Journal’s online edition October 25, 2012:

SUPERINTENDENT RELEASES PARK BOARD BUDGET WITH FLAT TAX LEVY

A proposed 2013 Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board budget would keep property taxes flat while cutting recreation center hours and reducing tree plantings.

The budget, http://www.minneapolisparks.org/documents/about/budget/2013_Recommended_Budget.pdf which was proposed by Superintendent Jayne Miller, will be debated and changed by the nine-member Park Board before eventual approval on Dec. 12.

Miller said her budget reflects a “maintain what we have” directive given by Park Board commissioners at a budget retreat this summer. The board is keeping its total employment at about 464 full-time employees while keeping the tax levy at $46.3 million.

That’s not to say the Park Board couldn’t still raise taxes. The Minneapolis Board of Estimation and Taxation approved the Park Board’s request to raise its tax levy by a maximum of 3 percent.

Miller created a list of additional expenditures that the Park Board could add to the budget, but those additions would lead to tax increases.

Among those items is $219,000 for aquatic invasive species monitoring and enforcement. As local fishermen know, the Park Board began a program this summer that required boats launched at Minneapolis lakes to first undergo an inspection for zebra mussels.

That angered some boaters, who complained that since the Park Board didn’t staff the launches all day, they were restricted from a natural resource. Unless the Park Board raises taxes to bring back the program, those inspections will no longer be required for boat launches.

Seven recreation centers will have their hours reduced from 28 hours a week to 14 hours a week. Those seven rec centers have not been identified, but Miller’s budget says they will be smaller rec centers where programs can be re-located. The Park Board will also take into consideration the demographics of the surrounding neighborhood, and that “low income needs more service.”

This year, the Park Board funded the planting of 6,000 trees in the city. It was an unusually high number of tree plantings because the Park Board added 3,000 trees to the tornado-ravaged North Side.

This year, the Park Board will plant only 1,500 trees, under the proposed budget. That, according to Miller, would maintain the urban canopy in Minneapolis, not increase it. If Park Board commissioners want to raise taxes by about 1 percent, they could plant an additional 2,500 trees.

Under the proposed budget, Fuller Park in the Tangletown neighborhood would get $125,000 for a new playground.

The proposed budget includes almost no fee increases.

The Park Board will take public comment on the budget at 5 p.m. on Nov. 7 at the Park Board Headquarters, 2117 W. River Road.

Design Vision Includes Land Bridge Over Lake Street Near Calhoun

A new vision for the north side of Lake Calhoun includes a land bridge over Lake Street, where bicyclists, walkers and runner could cross the busy street at Thomas Avenue and link up with the Midtown Greenway and Lake of the Isles (Drawing from LHB)

The following article by Nick Halter was published in the October 29, 2012 issue of the Southwest Journal:

DESIGN VISION INCLUDES LAND BRIDGE OVER LAKE STREET NEAR CALHOUN

Imagine a 150-foot wide land bridge over Lake Street near the Calhoun Beach Club, where bicyclists, walkers and runners could link up with the Midtown Greenway and Lake of the Isles.

It’s one of several ideas formulated by architects, Minneapolis Park Board staff, residents and stakeholders at a recent design charrette. After several days of input, architecture firm LHB released 43 pages of drawings illustrating how to make the land north of Lake Calhoun and south of Lake of the Isles safer and easier to use.

Other major ideas include a pedestrian bridge that runs parallel with the Lake Street bridge over the lagoon between to the two lakes. Such a bridge would simplify a spaghetti junction at the northeast corner of Lake Calhoun, where bike paths and walking trails cross.

The sailing club, boat rental facility and boat launch would be moved from the northeast corner of the lake to the northwest corner, according to the drawings. Calhoun Parkway would be moved further from the lake near the Calhoun Executive Center to make more space for the relocated facilities.

If some of the plans sound ambitious, it’s because they are. But Park Board officials say it’s a very long-term vision for the area.

“The major infrastructure improvements or changes would be years away, but I think there’s things we can do in the short term to make things safer and better,” said Deb Bartels, project manager for the Park Board. “(We want to) emphasize that we are years away from building anything new.”

The Park Board has earmarked $3.7 million for improvements to the Chain of Lakes in 2015 and 2016. That likely won’t come close to covering what is included in the sketches.

The area in question is one of the busiest crossroads in the state, where all kinds of recreation and transportation intersects. Nearly 40,000 vehicles travel Lake Street at Lake Calhoun every day. A 2011 study showed 1.3 million bikers, walkers, runners and others use Lake Calhoun annually, Bartels said.

The land bridge would solve some of the issues created by the converging traffic. The sketches show a bridge at Thomas Avenue with long, gradual ramps and a lowered Lake Street so that users wouldn’t have to fight steep hills.

Park Board staff plans to continue taking input on the drawings and eventually come forward to the Park Board with a series of recommendations for re-designing the area.

Comments may be sent to Bartels at dbartels@minneapolisparks.org or Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board, 2117 West River Road, Minneapolis, MN 55411.

Sixth District Dog Park Update

The MPRB has issued the following press release dated October 24, 2012:

SIXTH PARK DISTRICT DOG PARK UPDATE

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) is preparing to begin construction of the Sixth Park District Dog Park in Lyndale Farmstead Park. Project bids were received yesterday, and the best one will go to the Board for approval November 7.

The start of construction is later than anticipated. Additionally, the surface product needed for the park will not be available until spring. Knowing the urgency for the dog park to open is high, MPRB staff are working on a near-term solution that could allow the park to open for winter use. If the park opens for the winter, it would then need to be closed temporarily to complete the project once construction season begins again in spring.

Park staff have discussed parking bay concerns with the East Harriet Farmstead Neighborhood Association. Construction of the parking bays will not be moving forward until the MPRB has done more community outreach for them.

The MPRB is especially excited to begin construction of the park after the unusually high number of challenges that have required creative problem solving and new approaches. The resolve to get it done is higher than ever. The hope is that the difficulties are over and that work will proceed as for a typical construction project.

The MPRB looks forward to celebrating completion of this park with you.

For additional information regarding this project, visit the Sixth Park District project page: http://www.minneapolisparks.org/default.asp?PageID=1266 on the MPRB website.

Park Board Seeks Input for Calhoun – Isles Area

PARK BOARD SEEKS INPUT FOR CALHOUN-ISLES AREA

Recently KSTP-TV did two stories about the Calhoun-Isles Charrette. Here are the links to those stories:

Park Board Seeks Input on Upgrades for Calhoun-Isles Area:

http://southwest-calhoun.kstp.com/news/news/166952-park-board-seeks-input-upgrades-calhoun-isles-area

Park Board Considers Improvements for Lake Calhoun Area:

http://southwest-calhoun.kstp.com/news/news/164697-park-board-considers-improvements-lake-calhoun-area

Heads-Up for the October 24, 2012 Park Board Meeting

HEADS-UP FOR THE OCTOBER 24, 2012 PARK BOARD MEETING

5:00 P.M. REGULAR BOARD MEETING. The meeting will be held in the boardroom at Park Board headquarters, 2117 West River Road, just north of Broadway Pizza.

5:30 P.M. OPEN TIME. Speakers can call 612-230-6400 before 3:00 p.m. the day of the meeting to sign up or they can sign up at the Board meeting prior to the start of “Open Time.”

The agenda is a short one. The major item is the Superintendent’s Recommended 2013 Budget.

The complete agenda, with staff reports, for the MPRB Board of Commissioners’ meeting on Wednesday, October 24, 2012 is at http://minneapolisparksmn.iqm2.com

Also of interest and now available to the commissioners and the public are the monthly reports that Superintendent Miller has initiated for construction permits and for Planning Department projects. The availability of these reports is one of the important changes instituted by Superintendent Miller. Look for the links to these reports under Petitions and Communications in the agenda for the first Regular Meeting of the month.

MPRB meetings are telecast live from 5-9 p.m. on the City of Minneapolis Government Meeting Channel 79 on Comcast cable and online at http://minneapolisparksmn.iqm2.com

The regular meetings are retelecast on Channel 79 at 1 p.m. Saturdays and 5 p.m. on the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month. Webcasts for the recent two months are posted two to five business days after the meeting and are available for viewing under “Webcast Archives” at http://minneapolisparksmn.iqm2.com

The Park Board’s website is http://www.minneapolisparks.org. The phone number is 612-230-6400.

Arlene Fried

Co-founder of Park Watch

Above the Falls Plan Revision Coming Together

The following article by Irene Jones appeared in the on-line newsletter for Friends of the Mississippi on October 15, 2012:

ABOVE THE FALLS PLAN REVISION COMING TOGETHER

The planning process for Above the Falls in Minneapolis may seem like it’s been going on for a long time, and has ventured off (and returned from) on a few tangents, but the culmination of all this creative thinking, visioning and planning is finally starting to come together into what will eventually be an updated plan and implementation timetable. This week, planners from the City of Minneapolis and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) will present their first draft of key elements of the plan revision, which include proposed changes to park character, expansion of the regional park boundary, and recommended land-use changes for areas adjacent to parks. Scroll down for a quick summary of proposed changes, and links to more information.

WHY UPDATE THE PLAN

The City of Minneapolis and the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board formally adopted the current Above the Falls Plan (ATFP) in 2000. The plan put forth a bold vision for continuous parks and trails along both sides of the river spanning from Plymouth Avenue North to the northern city limits. It also called for land-use transitions from heavy industrial to new residential neighborhoods, mixed-use areas dominated by new commercial development and a few light industrial areas.

Although heralded by local residents, neighborhood organizations and the professional urban planning community, the award-winning plan proved especially difficult to implement. Progress was slowed by economic downturns and tax policy changes that made it more challenging for cities to use public funding and financing to accomplish the plan’s laudable goals. With only a handful of new parks and redevelopment projects being realized in the 12 years since the plan’s adoption, momentum significantly slowed.

In 2010, the City of Minneapolis began a policy review and implementation study to take another look at the feasibility of major land-use changes within the ATFP. Concurrent to that process, the MPRB held a design competition to reinvigorate the river park vision from the Stone Arch Bridge to the northern city limits. The renewed attention to the riverfront helped refresh the energy and enthusiasm for moving the ATFP forward, but it also created some confusion and many questions from the community. Initially, the two processes were worlds apart — one trying to ground-truth the ATFP’s proposed land uses in today’s realities, while the other conjured an alternative, and rather grand, new vision for riverfront parks.

Fast forward to 2012 (past too many public meetings to count) and the Above the Falls Plan revision process is “officially” in play. At the end of this nine-month revision process, the Minneapolis City Council and MPRB Commissioners will make a formal decision about proposed changes to the 2000 plan. The newly revised plan will be the policy document that guides new parks and development for the next 20 years.

Short version: This is where the rubber hits the road people (really, it is).

What’s being proposed and how you can weigh in

This information is hot off the press (as of early October) and planners need time to hear from community members before the staff proposal is finalized, but a brief summary of proposed changes is below. Many changes incorporate the vision of RiverFirst, the proposal that won the MPRB design competition.

Proposed changes to the Above the Falls Plan include:

•Expanding park boundaries at:

•the city-owned Upper Harbor Terminal (UHT),

•on the west side of the river south of the Lowry Bridge,

•and at the newly acquired Scherer site at 8th Avenue and Marshall Street Northeast

•Changing park character to:

•incorporate RiverFirst’s vision for Northside Wetlands at the Upper Harbor Terminal,

•replace the ATFP “promenade” with an integrated vision of riverfront trails, connections to northside neighborhoods and renovated industrial uses that support jobs,

•incorporate RiverFirst’s vision for Scherer beach and restored Hall’s Island,

•incorporate RiverFirst’s vision for passive recreational programming, more trails and connections, and more natural elements and ecological functions within the park.

•Changing land-use guidelines (and eventually city zoning)

Proposed land-use changes are less bold than those in the original ATFP and take into account city staff’s feasibility research. In general, many areas originally slated for residential development will instead become “Business Parks”, with the goal being to attract corporate campuses to locate adjacent to the riverfront park. In a few places, the current industrial land use is proposed to continue.

•West side between the Burlington Northern Railroad Bridge and Lowry: retain industrial land use along the river, instead of changing to mixed uses,

•Upper Harbor Terminal (Lowry to north of Dowling): change southern portion to business park and northern portion to mixed-use, instead of changing to residential uses,

•East side along St. Anthony Parkway (north of Xcel): retain industrial land use, instead of changing to residential uses,

•East side adjacent to Scherer Park (Plymouth to Broadway): change from light industrial to business park.

The best way to get up to speed on these issues is to pore through the information gathered in the past three years, much of which is available online. MPRB will hold one more public meeting in early December to present the draft plan update, and then there will be a 90-day comment period followed by public hearings and formal adoption in spring 2013.

You can also stay in touch with FMR as we will be sharing our comments and perspectives online. If you have additional questions, please contact Irene Jones or Bob Spaulding at 651-222-2193 or via the FMR contact form. http://www.fmr.org/

Helpful Links:

•Above the Falls Master Plan for the Upper River in Minneapolis (adopted 2000): http://www.minneapolismn.gov/cped/planning/plans/master-plans_above-falls_index

•Above the Falls Master Plan Revision; Policy Review & Implementation Study (2010-present), from the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board http://www.minneapolisparks.org/default.asp?PageID=1373 and the City of Minneapolis: http://www.minneapolismn.gov/cped/projects/cped_above_the_falls

•RiverFirst and the Design Competition (2010-2011):

oRiverFirst: http://riverfirst.com

ofrom the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board: http://www.minneapolisparks.org/default.asp?PageID=1352

oMinneapolis Riverfront Design Competition: http://minneapolisriverfrontdesigncompetition.com/

oMinnneapolis Riverfront Development Initiative: http://minneapolisriverfrontdevelopmentinitiative.com/