The following article by Bill McAuliffe was published in the January 18, 2014 issue of the StarTribune (this post replaces an earlier version of the story, published on the Star Tribune blog on January 15, entitled “Park near stadium wasn’t on Park Board’s Christmas list”):
‘The Yard’ could be pricey gift for Mpls. Park Board
As Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board members begin to talk about how they’ll spend their money over the next five years, “The Yard” is not on the agenda.
That’s the two-block, 4-acre space in the middle of the $400 million development on five blocks adjacent to the new Minnesota Vikings stadium, space the city would likely donate to the Park Board. But against the backdrop of legal and financial deadlines, Park Board members in recent days described The Yard as the equivalent of a gift puppy no one is prepared to feed or shelter.
Maybe even a Great Dane puppy.
“It’s the gift that keeps on taking,” Park Board President Liz Wielinski said.
Even if The Yard were just a basic, seeded-grass expanse with some trees and sidewalks, as outlined in preliminary discussions between the city and the Park Board, mowing it, shoveling it and lighting it would cost at least $300,000 per year, Wielinski noted. That’s neither in the Park Board’s budget nor in any agreement with the city.
The park’s highly visible location would also make it “the perfect protest park,” demanding a police presence, added Commissioner Scott Vreeland. That and other basic services could elevate the operations cost to $2 million a year, Wielinski and Vreeland said.
Capital improvements to house programming — say, an amphitheater — could cost $25 million to $40 million, they said.
Felicity Britton, executive director of People for Parks, which raises money for improvements to buildings and grounds in parks of all sizes, said she thinks that deferred maintenance in the parks is a clear sign the district’s budget and labor force are stretched.
“They need to focus on maintaining what they already have,” she said.
Britton added that she’d love to see a focal park space downtown. But it probably would require the establishment of some sort of adjunct “friends” group for fundraising, like the conservancy that supports Central Park in New York City.
Her group would step up if the Park Board asked, Britton added. But she offered a caution.
“Instead of multiple projects all around the city, we’d have to spend all our time and money on one park,” she said.
In any case, the Park Board, which in recent weeks has argued successfully in court to assert its authority to own and manage the city’s park land, isn’t likely to say “No, thanks,” to The Yard, said Park Board attorney Brian Rice. A conservancy might be part of the picture, as might an agency that would operate a facility on Park Board land. The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, for example, has operated on land donated to the Park Board since 1911, Rice said.
Chuck Lutz, deputy director of planning and economic development for the city, said that the city, working under the earlier understanding that it would own The Yard, envisioned a “basic park” that was little more than grass.
But Mary deLaittre, executive director of the Minneapolis Parks Foundation, which also helps the Park Board raise money, said any park in Minneapolis should be “innovative and forward-thinking.”
“It’s very important to think about parks in the long run — not only maintenance and operations, but long-term programming,” she added. “And those cost money.”
The park land is at the center of an ongoing legal dispute as a lawsuit seeks to clarify who will own and operate it. The suit lodged by two former mayoral candidates and a former City Council president claims that the Park Board has the sole authority to buy, own and operate parkland in the city. This, the suit alleges, is contrary to the City Council’s plan to buy the land.
On Friday, a Hennepin County judge ordered the three to post a $10 million surety bond, something the trio says is not possible. They are exploring their appeal options.
(Staff writer Eric Roper contributed to this report.)