The following article by Ben Johnson was published in the August 1, 2014 online issue of Southwest Journal.
PARK BOARD LIKELY TO DECLINE ANY INVOLVEMENT IN THE YARD
Both president and superintendent say ‘thanks but no thanks’ in resolution that will be discussed and voted on Wednesday. Conservancy next?
After months of negotiation and analysis the Park Board has declared it wants no part of the 3.4-acre park slated to be built as part of Ryan Development’s five-block Downtown East redevelopment next to the new Vikings stadium.
Park Board Superintendent Jayne Miller and President Liz Wielinski wrote a resolution laying out their case for declining any responsibility for the new park, dubbed “The Yard”, which will be discussed at the Park Board’s Aug. 6 meeting. The resolution states that taking ownership of The Yard would conflict with organizational permitting policies and the cost of building and operating the park would “negatively affect all other existing park priorities especially in racially diverse underserved areas.”
“I would say we’re respectfully declining to participate in this park,” said Wielinski, who noted that the board still needs to discuss and vote on the resolution on Wednesday.
The Park Board was not involved when the concept for The Yard was created through collaboration between the city, Ryan, Vikings and Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority. A lawsuit filed last December by two former mayoral candidates and former City Council President Paul Ostrow forced a Hennepin County judge to declare that the Park Board must own all parks in Minneapolis, making the Park Board a late, unwilling participant in planning for The Yard.
An operations and use agreement the parties agreed to in February allows the Vikings or the MSFA to control most of the park for up to 118 days out of the year, making it impossible to adhere to the Park Board’s permitting policy, according to Wielinski.
“This basically breaks most of the rules in our permitting policy, and that policy was a real challenge to put together, and we’re not ready to step out of those boundaries yet,” said Wielinski.
“Maybe 50 years from now when the Viking’s covenants are up this discussion might happen again, it might happen sooner, but right now the Park Board doesn’t see this as our biggest priority to invest our time and energy,” she added.
The Park Board estimates The Yard will take between $6 million and $20 million to build and another $500,000 to $3 million to operate each year, a massive amount of unplanned expenses for an organization already looking at a $1.3 million budget deficit next year.
Ward 3 City Council Member Jacob Frey has been the most vocal supporter of a conservancy to run The Yard. He says the Park Board relinquishing responsibility for the park makes the path toward creating a conservancy clearer and stronger.
“I’m very confident now that we’re going with a conservancy model. It will be structured through the Downtown Council and they will handle maintenance and programming, with a board made up of public officials, community leaders and prominent business people controlling the big-picture decisions,” he said.
In June the Downtown Council voted to spend $50,000 to begin setting up a conservancy that could run Peavey Plaza and The Yard.
A city spokesperson said they are aware of the Park Board’s position, but were not ready to comment when news broke Friday afternoon.
UPDATE: The city issued the following statement regarding the Park Board’s proposed resolution:
“The City will continue to work on plans to develop the Downtown East park independent of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. This includes developing a capital plan to create the park, an operating plan to fund ongoing operations and possibly a conservancy to run the park.”