The following article by Ben Johnson was published in the Southwest Journal on August 6, 2014.
PARK BOARD DECLINES INVOLVEMENT IN ‘YARD’
Photo provided by Ryan Companies
Despite concerns over usurping its authority over parks and desire for more green space in area, cost, commitments to Vikings, MSFA deemed too much to bear.
Tonight the Park Board passed a resolution stating it will not be involved in the development, maintenance or operation of the 3.4-acre park planned as part of the Downtown East redevelopment under construction next to the new Vikings stadium.
Commissioners all agreed the operations and use agreement for the park does not meet the Park Board’s standard for a public park, and that the costs associated with building and maintaining it were not realistic.
However, Commissioners John Erwin (At-large) and Jon Olson (2nd District) argued allowing the city to take ownership of the park sets a dangerous precedent, threatening the Park Board’s authority over all city parks. Erwin proposed to table the resolution and direct Superintendent Jayne Miller to continue to try to work something out with the city.
“It’s a park! To say we don’t have responsibility for it rejects the City Charter,” said Erwin.
“I believe the Park Board should be the one running this, designing this, engaging the community on this, because that is what we do,” he added.
Erwin also pointed out the Park Board is already actively looking to create more green space in the Downtown East neighborhood where the park will be built, and the Park Board has already accepted land with significant restrictions on it in the past.
Erwin’s motion failed on a 5-4 vote, and after 90 minutes of debate the resolution separating the Park Board from any responsibility for the park passed 6-2. Erwin and Olson voted nay and District 6 Commissioner Brad Bourn abstained.
An earlier analysis by Southwest Journal columnist David Brauer found that the park’s operations and use agreement gives the Minnesota Vikings, a future Major League Soccer franchise or the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA) control over the park for up to 118 days out of the year. An analysis done by Park Board staff found other commitments in the agreement left the Park Board only four weekends out of the year it could book events without the Vikings, MSFA or future MLS franchise being able to usurp its authority.
“The agreement in place does not allow the space to truly qualify as a public park,” said Park Board President Liz Wielinski. “People aren’t going to want to book this space if they don’t know for sure that the Vikings or MSFA won’t come in and take it over.”
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.
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.
It’s unclear how the park planning process will proceed, or if the Park Board has solid legal standing to decline the park. President Wielinski, Ward 3 City Council Member Jacob Frey and a city spokesperson all have said that a conservancy is likely to be created to run the park. In June the Downtown Council agreed to take the lead in exploring the possibility of creating that conservancy, which would be responsible for the Downtown East park and Peavey Plaza.