Turf war brews over park renovation plans in north Mpls.

The following item was aired on KARE-TV on June 11, 2013:

Turf war brews over park renovation plans in north Mpls.

NORTH MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — Two parks in north Minneapolis will soon get new multi-purpose fields, but not all neighbors see the improvement as a win.

The Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board says the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation will spearhead a more than $2 million makeover for the Farview and North Commons parks ball fields.

“The need is there. I think the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation saw that and looked at the research we had done, the potential for increasing teams and said, ‘Hey, this is a good fit,'” said Cliff Swenson, a Director of Design and Project Management with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.

The Ripken Foundation will turn Farview Park into a replica of the old Nicollet baseball field, which is a $1.5 million dollar improvement. North Commons’ softball diamond will be transformed with $600,000 in improvements. Both will have turf, and that’s why some neighbors say they stand to lose.

“We don’t want the artificial turf. We don’t want the gates and fences,” said David Luce, who lives near Farview park and is worried gates and fences will be locked and will shut neighbors out.

Luce is also concerned about the loss of neighborhood space and says despite a petition with nearly 100 signatures, the Park Board approved the project even when opponents protested at every public hearing.

“Too bad we are going to do it anyway because it’s for the kids,” said Richard Hammett, another neighbor in opposition.

Minneapolis Park & Recreation says gates will not lock neighbors out unless vandalism occurs. It also says the synthetic turf has practical purpose and can hold more wear and tear than grass can. With about 5,000 youth playing in the park board programs on about 400 outdoor athletic fields, the staff points to its success at other areas, such as the East Phillips and Curry parks.

“Synthetic gives us the opportunity to have lots of play,” said Swenson. “Our fields get really used we want that, but with natural turf, it’s hard to keep good quality turf growing.”

“We’ve always had to play in the mud. It’s something that is much needed in our community,” said Mike Tate, a long-time North Minneapolis youth football coach.

Tate says debate over the reconstructed fields should not be about opposing teams.  He hopes instead for a uniting force.

“It allows for the Latinos, African Americans and Asians to gather on fields to learn soccer, kickball baseball and tee ball,” Tate said.

The Ripken Foundation cited a project backed by research, saying statistics show the community surrounding Farview Park has a childhood poverty rate over 41 percent for children between 0 and 17 years old.  It says at North Commons Park, the rate ranges from 26 to 40 percent.

“With some of the highest childhood poverty rates in the city, the need is high for access to safe and positive facilities, afterschool programs and mentors or coaches who care about their well-being and success,” The Ripken Foundation said in a written statement.

The Pohlad Family Foundation, Phillips Family Foundation and Minnesota Twins Community Fund also made donations to the project.

Construction will begin this summer and is expected to take four to six months. The Park Board says community members will assist in building the new facilities.

Opponents still protest the project.

“We want to keep access to our beautiful historic open multi-purpose field and not have it be restricted. We want it open for everyone to use and enjoy actively passively aesthetically, just like the folks in south Minneapolis or in the suburbs,” said Luce.

You can learn more about the synthetic turf or the progress of the field construction improvements http://www.minneapolisparks.org/default.asp?PageID=1384 on the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board webpage.