Re: Privatization at Wirth Park

The following item by Shawne FitzGerald was posted February 7, 2013 on e-democracy.org:

RE: PRIVATIZATION AT WIRTH PARK

Eric Roper posted a story on the Wirth Park conflict earlier this week: http://www.startribune.com/local/minneapolis/189750241.html

The Wirth Park Concept Plan approved by the Board last summer has two cycling components. One is an extension of the existing single track recreational mountain biking trails to the southwest area of the park. The MN Off-Road Cyclists (MOCA) has volunteered to build this 1-plus mile extension after approval by MPRB staff. (Purple line in attached image). MOCA volunteers have already built about 6.5 miles of trail in Wirth. MOCA has not requested any building and has no conflict with either golfers or skiers. See article comments.

The second component would be a new 3-4 mile Cycling Event and Racing Trail to be built in the traditional golf course area, west of the Chalet and along both sides of Bassett Creek. These are the light brown lines in the attached image. For larger views, see http://www.minneapolisparks.org/documents/design/wirth/05.01.12_presentation.pdf. Currently, the traditional golf course area is used for golf in summer and winter recreation (skiing, tubing, and snowboarding) in winter. The Cycling Event/Race Trail adds a second summertime use and this is the source of conflict.

I can’t quite envision the Event/Racing Trail. Cyclo-cross, pump track and BMX as well as mountain bike racing was mentioned in CAC documents. I wasn’t the parkwatcher at the CAC meetings (& welcome corrections) but I couldn’t find any need statement in the CAC documents. Why is this facility needed in the Minneapolis and also the Metropolitan regional park system?

The Park Board Commissioners haven’t had a study session or discussion of this topic as far as I know. The Loppet Foundation would like a concession contract to operate the event/racing trail but this has not been decided, of course. MPRB net income (profit) from the event/race trail is projected at $5,000-$6,000 annually for the first decade.

The addition of the event/racing trail requires rearranging holes at the Wirth 18 golf course. (Par 3 golfers would lose their clubhouse and parking lot for the Welcome Center building.) I can’t quite tell from the budget but it looks like the changes would cost the MPRB golf program $5-$6 million. Neither the golf program nor the entire MPRB enterprise operations have this kind of money right now. Last night, the MPRB Admin & Finance Committee approved a $9 million bond sale for rehab and environmental upgrades to the ice arenas – and it was clear that debt payments will be a concern through 2021 when the Neiman Complex bonds are paid off.

The cycle event/race trail issue has more problems. Student teams from the U of M Environmental Sciences, Policy and Management program identified environmental concerns including soil erosion. modification of Bassett Creek, loss of habitat and threats to wildlife. The students suggested a citizen petition for an EAW for a full assessment of environmental impact. The Wirth 18 golfers asked for their analysis.

The Wirth 18 golf course is in the process of being nominated as a contributing historic site in the proposed Grand Rounds Historic District. SHPO, in cooperation with MPRB, is the lead on this. So Wirth 18 is already protected as a historic site until a final determination is made. This may require the MPRB to look at feasible and prudent alternative sites for the cycle/event race trail and the Welcome Center.

Finally, detailed financial planning for the Wirth Park changes have not been completed. The total budget is $21,031,345. The golf courses, including proposed restaurant in Chalet, don’t qualify for state funds like bonds or regional park dollars. Not sure if the Welcome Center (with another restaurant), related parking, and event/cycling trails will either. These items are roughly $13 million. The Loppet Foundation has pledged to raise $3 million. What about the other $10 million? Will city taxpayers be on the hook for this? Either through more borrowing or property tax increases or park services cuts (like closing neighborhood rec centers)?

Last summer, the Park Board resolved: “That prior to proceeding with detailed design of the master plan features that are identified as ‘public-private partnership’ elements, staff is directed to prepare a detailed park development and operations pro-forma that identifies the ability to construct the improvement without a negative MPRB budget impact.” This has not been done. Also, the plan for funding the entire $21 million of Wirth capital costs has not been presented. Before moving forward, and before there is more controversy and division, the MPRB needs to finish the Wirth planning process.

My bias in all this: I’m worried that Corcoran and other neighborhood rec centers will be closed. Rec center activity fees are so high that they are a barrier to young friends with children. Until recently, the MPRB’s traditional fee waiver program was largely ignored even though 1/4 of Minneapolis children live in households with poverty-level incomes or less. The MPRB is taking a fresh look at rec center services and I hope the children of Minneapolis, all of them, will have ready access to those public programs.

If we do nothing for Wirth skiers, they still have 15 miles of trails plus snowmaking capacity (not to mention underutilized x-country sites at Columbia, Gross, and Hiawatha). If we do only the MOCA trails, there will be 8 miles of mountain biking at Wirth. I am tired of special interest lobbyists saying we need “world class” expensive rec facilities and “It’s for the kids!” when in reality, core recreation services to city children have become unaffordable for many and may be eliminated at some sites. So, let’s see the Wirth numbers.

Shawne FitzGerald

Powderhorn Park