The following article by Ben Johnson was published in the October 17, 2014 edition of the Downtown Journal.
Alternative Uses Considered for Controversial Riverfront Land
Nobody in Northeast liked the Park Board’s plan to build a $4 million storage and maintenance facility on recently acquired riverfront property, so now staff is putting together alternative options for commissioners to consider.
Several Park Board staff members and Park Board President Liz Wielinski met with concerned neighbors Oct. 14 to discuss how to best use the 1.74-acre chunk of riverfront real estate. The original plan, which included a small riverfront park, was slated for preliminary approval at the Aug. 20 board meeting but that was tabled after more than 30 people showed up to testify against it.
Three substitute ideas have emerged: Pave the parcel to provide parking for the neighborhood at an estimated cost of $750,000, turn the land into a grassy, open field at an estimated cost of $1 million, or develop it into some combination of parking and green space.
The dilapidated, 37,780-square-foot warehouse currently standing at 1720 Marshall St. NE will be demolished unless the Park Board votes to continue with its unpopular plan.
Wielinski, who represents Northeast, says she’s leaning toward the grassy field option, although she was unsure if any of the alternatives would have the votes to move forward. Park Board staff cautioned the million dollar estimate for the grassy field option could be much higher if more pollution is found onsite.
“I think it’s safe to say the plan will change, but it’s going to depend on the other commissioners. A lot of them still support [the original plan],” Wielinski said after the Oct. 14 meeting.
Staff is expected to present a clearer picture of the different “short term development solutions” to commissioners at its Nov. 5 board meeting. Eventually the Park Board intends to develop the entire parcel into a park, per the Above the Falls Master Plan.
Psycho Suzi’s mobilizes opposition
Psycho Suzi’s has a month-to-month lease with the Park Board to use about 150 spaces in the property’s parking lot for employee and valet parking. If those spaces disappear the neighborhood’s already tight parking situation will almost certainly worsen.
Psycho Suzi’s owner Leslie Bock bussed a group of her employees to the Aug. 20 Planning Committee hearing in a customized “Tiki Tram” to protest the proposed storage facility. She also started an online petition against the plan that has garnered more than 1,500 signatures.
“We’re not here to provide parking for private businesses,” said Wielinski. “[Bock] needs to figure that out on her own.”
During the hearing Wielinski called out Bock, asking her to promise she’d cantilever her enormously popular deck and grant an easement to accommodate a future riverfront bike trail in exchange for some parking. At-large Commissioner and Planning Committee Chair Annie Young called Wielinski out of order and the hearing moved on before Bock could respond.
Dire need for storage, office space remains
The property was purchased in 2012 for $1.37 million, aided by $811,000 worth of grants from the Met Council and Mississippi Watershed Management Organization.
The Park Board thought it could use the land to address its dire need for secure indoor storage and office space for its operations staff while waiting for new park funding to materialize. Currently operations supervisors in north and northeast Minneapolis are crammed into offices without bathrooms, phones or computers, and millions of dollars worth of equipment sits outside all year, exposed to inclement weather and thieves.
Park Board Director of Planning and Project Management Cliff Swenson said he’s been looking to lease or buy space elsewhere in north or northeast Minneapolis for a facility to meet those needs, but so far pickings are slim.
“A space that would meet all of our requirements just doesn’t come dropping out of the sky,” he said.