Category Archives: Park privatization

Backlash Delays Contract for Wirth Park Welcome Center

The following article by Nick Halter appeared in the January 25, 2013 issue of the Southwest Journal:

BACKLASH DELAYS CONTRACT FOR WIRTH PARK WELCOME CENTER

A Minneapolis Park Board committee was set to vote on a contract that would create a partnership with the Loppet Foundation to build and operate a new “silent sports center” at Wirth Park, but public outcry sent staff back to the drawing board.

“The particular iteration of the contract is what I would call crap-tastic,” said Commissioner Liz Wielinski (District 1).

The agreement would have the Park Board relying on the Loppet Foundation (formerly the City of Lakes Nordic Ski Foundation) to raise $3 million for a silent sports center. That center would house a shop for bike ski rentals and sales; some type of concessions; a conference room; a great room and a training room.

In exchange for raising those funds, the Park Board would give the Loppet a 20-year lease with a 5-year option to operate the facility. The original agreement allowed the Loppet to pick tenants for the building and gave the Loppet naming rights.

The Park Board would spend $1.7 million it received from state bonding money to knock down the clubhouse for the par 3 golf course and for design work on the welcome center. The money would also go toward building a new parking lot and a “stadium” for mountain biking and skiing events.

The Park Board would have to use its own funds to relocate the 17th and 18th holes of the 18-hole course to make room for the building.

Members of the golf community raised concerns about the agreement with the Loppet Foundation. They said they weren’t involved in the contract and said they worried that the Park Board wasn’t committed to properly re-locating the two golf holes. They raised concerns over how much control a private group would have in a park that is shared with golfers.

Some non-golfers also raised concerns on public forums, saying a 25-year contract will give a private organization control over the city’s biggest park.

As a result of the backlash, the Park Board removed an item from its Jan. 17 agenda and commissioners said they wanted some issues addressed in a memorandum of understanding that was drafted between the Park Board and Loppet Foundation.

“I have a list of probably 50 different things,” said Commissioner Anita Tabb (District 4).

Loppet Foundation Executive Director John Munger urged the Park Board to move quickly on the contract, because it stipulates that the Foundation must raise the $3 million by the end of 2014. The goal is to have the new center build in time for the 2016-2017 winter.

“I am just going to tell you that you’re all very capable of killing this project by procedure, because if it’s three to six months before it’s done, we’re probably not going to be able to succeed,” Munger said.

Questions About the Park Board's M. O. U. With the Loppet Foundation

The following commentary by David Fehlan, resident of East Isles, was posted on the Minneapolis Issues List on January 16, 2013: http://forums.e-democracy.org/groups/mpls/messages/post/6QPbIimN3LUCnkiyQX2LVU

QUESTIONS ABOUT THE PARK BOARD’S M.O.U. WITH THE LOPPET FOUNDATION

I read the complete MOU, the complete proposed agreement and everything that’s written above. Here are some questions/impressions:

1. Why 20+5 years? Was this negotiated? Was one party ready to walk away and this is the best, fairest compromise?

2. Why no escalation/inflation indexing clause in the so-called rent of $150K per year? That’s not going to be worth nearly as much in 20 years.

3. Why no escalation clause in the $10K the Foundation sets aside each year for maintenance/center improvements?

4. The $10K in No. 3 above sounds like a pittance. If homeowners are supposed to plan on 1% of property value per year in maintenance, why does the Foundation get away with a third of that amount?

5. Has a complete inventory and a fair market value been completed for the snow-making and skiing equipment that is going to be gifted to the Foundation? There is not a lot of detail in the Agreement and I could not find a clause that says the Foundation must return equal or greater equipment, in equal or better condition, to the MPRB at the end of the 20-year lease or at anytime should there be a breach or early termination.

6. The language is very clear that the Foundation’s total building contribution is capped at $3M and that they have pretty much free reign for fundraising for the next 20 years. That includes selling naming rights to the building and various rooms within. They’ve got some big-name sponsors on their website and I’m sure more would jump on board if the project moves ahead and more events are held throughout the year (more eyeballs for advertising). This could be a freakin’ goldmine for the foundation and the MPRB and its taxpayers would get squat.

7. Related to No. 6, the Foundation could make a lot of money on concessions, equipment sales and rentals, and ticket-taking at the golf course. Has the MRPB run through financial projections to see if they’re getting a fair deal? Is a 5% vig on golf-related transactions fair? That ranks up there with TicketMaster, no friend of the consumer.

8. I didn’t see any mention of a Service Level Agreement, meaning in return for all this taxpayer largesse, the Foundation must do X, Y and Z in addition to the Loppet and the summertime activities. If they are selling this as “it’s all about the kids” then why aren’t the community service performance indicators IN the agreement and adjusted each year or every other year? The Foundation could make a financial killing and in 20 years, still be offering ski training and outings to the same limited number of students they do today.

9. Steve Kotvis talks about all the volunteers, and I realize there are many. But this ain’t no labor of love for everyone involved. According to the 2010 IRS form 990 (where is the 2011 document), the executive director gets $50K a year, an admin asst gets $32K and there are a couple of other employees plus associated payroll taxes. Those figures aren’t extravagant now, but again, if the Foundation really grows, I would not be surprised to see a few six-figure jobs created.

10. Steve also says the upcoming Loppet will attract 100,000+ participants and spectators. I don’t know where that figure comes from, because on the Foundation’s website, one can see the highlights of the entire history of the Loppet and participants don’t appear to exceed ~750 and there are several thousand spectators, but not 10,000 and certainly not 100,000.

Overall, I think the MPRB and the taxpayers are getting screwed. The Foundation has little skin in the game and the upside is all theirs. This deal reminds me of the “privatized profits and socialized losses” phrase that came about to describe certain Wall Street banks.

David Fehlan

East Isles, Minneapolis

E-Mail: Critique of Loppet Paperwork

The following e-mail letter from John Chaffee dated January 16, 2013 has been sent to the members of the MPRB’s Administration and Finance Committee. John Chaffee is a resident of Nicollet Island and a member of Park Watch.

Commissioners,

There are a good many policy issues connected with the Loppet deal, and I’m sure other people will address them. I’d like to comment on what seem to be some problems with the documents. I am not an attorney, but have read a good many public documents prepared by the Park Board and other bodies, and later observed how they worked, or did not work.

My comments are as follows:

No statement of purpose or public benefits: The Lease gives Loppet possession of the property for 25 years. Section 6 gives a brief list of what Loppet is to do, but there are no broad statements about what is to be accomplished.

Ideally such a facility should serve all members of the public, regardless of income; provide a wide range of activities; and not interfere unnecessarily with any other park uses. And any charges made should be no more than necessary to cover costs. There needs to be some language to that effect.

No defined right of access for the public: The Lease, like any other lease, gives Loppet possession of the property and the right to control it. There needs to be a statement that the public will have access to the parkland in the same manner as other parkland, and that Loppet is only managing it. There is a “Proprietary Rights” statement in the MOU which says the Park Board will continue to own the land. That is not helpful, because MPRB’s ownership will be subject to the Lease.

No transparency as to Loppet’s finances: Since Loppet is, or apparently will be, a contractor / partner for MPRB, its finances should be transparent and MPRB should have the right to review its books and records. This condition should be spelled out now.

No restrictions on Loppet’s expenditures: Responsible charitable organizations typically follow guidelines that call for spending 85% of revenues on programming and only 15% on fundraising and administration. Will Loppet agree to that, or something similar? If so, that condition should be in one of these documents before the Board takes action. If Loppet will not agree, a different contractor should be sought.

No legal description; documents not recordable: The Lease contains a sketch showing the land area which Loppet is to control. But there is no legal description. That means two things—

1) The land area to be controlled by Loppet is not clearly defined, which could lead to disputes in the future.

2) A document without a legal description cannot be recorded in the Hennepin County Recorder’s office, because there is no way to index it. A lease that ties up public property for 25 years should be filed in the public land records in the Recorder’s office, for the sake of transparency and to make sure that it does not get lost, among other reasons.

Ambiguity as to legal-counsel review: The staff report says that “The MOU and the Lease have been reviewed and approved by legal counsel.” This is a third-party statement and not at all specific. Who reviewed them? What was approved, the form? the content? or both?

If I were voting on these documents, I would want a written statement that an attorney had drafted them, and the name of the attorney. If the documents have been drafted by staff or consultants, I would ask for a first-hand written statement from a named attorney who has reviewed them, saying that in his/her opinion they provide adequate protection for the interests of MPRB and the public.

Thanks very much for your attention.

John Chaffee

Privatization at Wirth Park

The following item by Shawne FitzGerald, a resident of Powderhorn Park, first appeared on mpls@forums.e-democracy.org and is being republished here with permission.

PRIVATIZATION AT WIRTH PARK

On July 11th, 2012, the Minneapolis Park Board voted to overturn the recommendations of the Theodore Wirth Citizens Advisory Committee and the recommendation of its own Planning Committee and shift $1.5 million in State bond funds from environmental projects at Wirth Park to building a new Welcome Center in the vicinity of the Wirth Par 3 Clubhouse.

The Welcome Center was heavily promoted by the City of Lakes Nordic Ski Foundation (dba The Loppet Foundation). The Loppet pledged to raise $3 million in private donations for Center construction and MPRB staff was directed to develop an agreement with The Loppet “to raise not less than a 2 for 1 matching amount of $3.0 million privately by December 1, 2014.” The Board also directed staff to prepare a detailed park development and operations pro forma “that identifies the ability to construct the [Welcome Center] without negative MPRB budget impact.”

http://tinyurl.com/ck7gvxt

The Loppet is back with a fundraising agreement and it’s a doozy.

In return for raising $3,000,000, The Loppet wants a 25 year lease on the new Welcome Center and 22.5 surrounding acres. The Loppet would serve as “Developer” subletting the building to tenants like a restaurant, a bike shop, a winter sports store, offices, etc. It appears The Loppet would keep all building revenue. The Loppet would also have naming rights to the building and all interior areas. Finally, the MPRB would “credit” the Loppet’s annual rent payments for 20 years, total value $3 million.

Loppet fundraising deadlines could be pushed out to mid-2015.

The Loppet would take over all MPRB winter recreation activities and related work (snow making, trail grooming, equipment rentals) at Wirth, Columbia, Gross and Hiawatha. Experienced MPRB union employees would be replaced by The Loppet. The Loppet would collect funds for event permits, x-country/tubing/snowboarding passes, equipment rentals, etc. and apparently keep these. Plus The Loppet would organize bicycle races and events similar to its x-country fundraisers. The MPRB would give the Loppet its snowmaking and trail grooming equipment and winter sports equipment inventory, a donation estimated at $200,000 or so.

It’s not clear if the MPRB will provide a separate contract to pay the Loppet for maintenance work. Net losses in the winter recreation program have surpassed $200,000+ in recent years. Increased snowmaking at Wirth also has a hidden cost: it takes so long for the snow to melt that golf course openings are delayed, costing these courses $35,000-$100,000 a year. Since no financial projections have been included, it’s tough to see if the privatization is a solution.

The MPRB would continue to provide outdoor utilities – primarily electricity for trail lights and snowmaking.

The agreement calls for MPRB demolition of the Wirth Par 3 Clubhouse and parking. The MPRB would build a new and larger parking lot across the Parkway (southside) and possibly a new pedestrian/biking bridge. Replacement of the Clubhouse, fully paid for out of golf revenues, is not in the plan. The Loppet would collect golf and cart rental fees at its concierge station with 95% of golf revenue paid to MPRB. The golfers are hoppin’ mad!

In a related simultaneous project, the MPRB would demolish and relocate holes 17 and 18 of the historic Wirth Golf course. MN SHPO has almost completed the paperwork for a new Grand Rounds historic district and the Wirth Golf Course is listed as a contributing historic site. Relocating the golf holes would allow for new trails from the Welcome Center to the Bassett Creek area for mountain biking(bmx?) race events. (Not the same as the single track off-road trails in the Wirth woods, built by MORCA volunteers, so as not to harm the environment.)

There’s more – the paperwork is over 20 pages: http://tinyurl.com/d8aa6fl . No market studies, no business plan. No frank discussion of how many Minneapolis residents use or want winter recreation services and how to provide these, equitably, throughout the City. Not a word about access for low-income people, no mention of programs for disadvantaged youth. The Loppet is an organization with no experience in property management, commercial leasing, park keeping, or bicycle events – yet the MPRB is seriously considering issuing a 25 year no-bid lease and contract to this group.

This is listed as a study item before Admin and Finance Committee. Expect it will be moved, referred to full Board, and a done deal by tomorrow night.

Shawne FitzGerald

Member of Minneapolis Park Watch

Friends of Wirth Par 3 Oppose Clubhouse Demolition

The Friends of Wirth Par 3, a Wirth Park golfers’ group, has issued the following statement about the Par 3 clubhouse, which would be demolished under the proposed MPRB agreement with the Loppet Foundation. The agreement is on the Administration and Finance Committee agenda for January 16:

PROTECT THE WIRTH PAR 3 CLUBHOUSE FROM DEMOLITION

The Wirth Golf Course Par 3 clubhouse at 1325 Theodore Wirth Parkway is located in the new Grand Rounds Historic District. The clubhouse and 9-hole golf course were completed in 1962.

The clubhouse is a one-story building [see attached file], 28 feet by 50 feet, constructed of randomly sized stone blocks. The low gabled roof has overhanging eaves with exposed rafters.

The clubhouse was designed by architects Armstrong and Schlichting of Minneapolis. Current MPRB Wirth Park plans include the demolition of the Par 3 clubhouse after a Welcome Center is built nearby. Golfers believe the Par 3 clubhouse should be protected by the new Grand Rounds Historic District, especially considering how visible the building is from Wirth Parkway. The Scenic Byways designation ( http://minneapolisparks.org/documents/design/missing/Grand_Rounds_Corridor_Plan.pdf ) from 1998 also offers protections.

Another reason golfers oppose the demolition is because GOLFERS PAID FOR THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE PAR 3 CLUBHOUSE AS THEY PAY FOR ALL GOLF COURSE OPERATIONS AND IMPROVEMENTS AT ALL OF THE MPRB GOLF COURSES. This policy of NOT using property taxes to support golf originated with Theodore Wirth in 1916 when the historic Wirth (originally named Glenwood) 18-hole golf course opened its first 9 holes. If the Par 3 clubhouse is demolished, golfers would have to pay a substantial portion of the Welcome Center construction costs because part of the Welcome Center would function as the Par 3 clubhouse in the summer. THIS IS UNFAIR TO GOLFERS.
Wirth_Par_3_Clubhouse.jpg

City Park Economics

The Old Urbanist blog has an interesting post about the economics, the quantitative value, of city parks. He begins his essay:

What’s an urban park worth to a city? The question is straightforward, but despite the attention lavished on parks in the urban design literature, the economics of parks – their measurable costs and benefits – have received less attention. Although “the science of city park economics is still in its infancy,” according to the Trust for Public Land, a number of studies over the past decade have helped establish a consensus on a few key points.

A study the author calls one of the best resources on the topic states:

  • Homes adjacent to parkland receive a 22% price premium, but the premium rapidly drops off for properties beyond 600 feet from the park.
  • Large parks do confer greater premiums than small parks, but the premium is small compared to the effect of being close to a small park.
  • Smaller lots place a higher value on park proximity than large lots.

In light of these findings, the author recommends a series of small parks, rather than a handful of large parks, as the property value benefits of the former will typically exceed the maintenance savings of the latter.

The blog post and the source it links to make an interesting read. The full post can be read at the blog itself.

HEADS-UP FOR THE OCTOBER 20, 2010 PARK BOARD MEETING

HEADS-UP FOR THE OCTOBER 20, 2010 PARK BOARD MEETING

5:00 P.M. REGULAR BOARD MEETING. Committee meetings to follow. The meetings will be held in the boardroom at Park Board headquarters, 2117 West River Road, just north of Broadway Pizza.

5:30 P.M. OPEN TIME. Speakers need to sign up before 3:00 p.m. the day of the meeting.

This meeting is the last meeting that David Fisher will be attending as Superintendent. His four month stint as interim superintendent ends on October 31. We are grateful that he accepted the invitation to come to Minneapolis to fill this position.

This meeting is a meeting with many significant agenda items. The most important item on the agenda is the vote to approve the employment agreement with Jayne Miller, who–at the last meeting–was selected by a unanimous vote to be the new MPRB Superintendent.

Some highlights of the meetings that will be voted on :

The I-35 Bridge Memorial.
The concession agreement with Bread & Pickle at Lake Harriet.
The reconvening of the CAC for the Wirth Beach Project III.
The non-appointed CACs for two playgrounds at Lake Harriet.

There will be a presentation of the Superintendent’s 2011 Recommended Budget. This is a report item and will not be voted on at this time.

The following is the link to the complete agenda, with staff reports, for the MPRB Board of Commissioners’ meeting of Wednesday, October 20: http://www.minneapolisparks.org/default.asp?PageID=37&calid=670

MPRB meetings are broadcast live from 5-9 p.m. on the City of Minneapolis Government Meeting Channel 79 on Comcast cable and online at http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/webcasts.

The regular meetings are rebroadcast on Channel 79 at 1 p.m. Saturdays and 5 p.m. on the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month. Webcasts for the recent two months are posted two to five business days after the meeting and are available for viewing under “Webcast Archives” at http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/webcasts.

The Park Board’s website is http://www.minneapolisparks.org.

Arlene Fried, Co-founder of Park Watch

StarTribune: Windsurfers fear losing access to Lake Calhoun

The StarTribune is reporting that Twin Cities windsurfers may find their access to Lake Calhoun in jeopardy due to development plans the Park Board wants to pursue. The area used by windsurfers to prepare and launch might become too small for such use if planned parking lot modifcations are made. Wind surfers were forced off Lake Harriet more than a decade ago. Windsurfers are not happy with the plan.

Read the entire story on the StarTribune website.

Southwest Journal Coverage of the 2008 Budget

The following commentary by Shawn FitzGerald appeared on the e-democracy forums on Setember 21, 2008:

NICOLLET ISLAND PAVILION, MPRB FINANCIAL STATEMENTS
Regarding Scott Russell’s story about the private use of the Nicollet
Island Pavilion at the TC Daily Planet.

Nicollet Island: Cash cow or public park?

T C Daily Planet

I posted a comment to Mr. Russell’s article that I would like to share
with this list (below.) Park Board staff proclaims that the contract
with the private vendor, Mintahoe, is a good deal for the public because
Mintahoe has spent over $1 million for remodeling and furnishing the
Pavilion. The million dollars may be true – but there is no way for
citizens to verify this for what Mintahoe, a private for-profit
corporation, has spent is not public information. Knowing the building,
I couldn’t see where $1 million in permanent improvements could have
been spent. Public funds were used to rehab the Pavilion, a historic
building, in the 1980s. So, I put in a data practices request to the
Park Board and learned that the book value of the 2002-2003 rehab was
about $408,000.

My best guess is that the Park Board invested about a quarter of a
million in the building to get Mintahoe into the Pavilion and that
Mintahoe invested something less. These costs were primarily to
winterize the building – an insulated roof (MPRB), asbestos abatement
(MPRB), a new boiler and new doors and windows (Mintahoe). A lot of
electrical work was done including adding something like 40-50 new
circuits. These might help out a caterer/event center but they are not
really needed for the Pavilion’s public purposes: picnic shelter, rest
rooms, drinking fountain.

MPRB staff also claimed that the Pavilion generated $400,000 a year for
the Park Board. Liz W. of Park Watch left a comment rebutting this – and
Liz is correct. For example, in 2007, the Park Board shows net income
$271,352 from “Nicollet Island.” It’s not clear if this is Pavilion
income alone or Pavilion and Nicollet Island Inn income. Whatever, this
money does not go to our neighborhood parks or forestry for the
Enterprise Fund surpluses are dedicated to paying for Ft Snelling
Neiman. Debt service at Ft Snelling Neiman is just over $1 million a
year and in 2007, the MPRB Enterprise Fund operations had a net surplus
(profit) of about $750,000. Not enough to cover debt service at Ft
Snelling Neiman but a very good year for enterprise operations. The MPRB
2007 Audited Financial Statements have been recently posted.

Park Board Enterprise operations have increased net income (profit) by
$350,000 since 2004. If the MPRB increases enterprise operations by
another 50% – with higher user fees, more bar/restaurants in the parks,
more rentals, and especially the lucrative parking operatons and vending
machines, MPRB net profits from earned income enterprises might actually
cover debt service at Ft Snelling Nieman.

(Upcoming: the MPRB contract with Coca Cola recently expired so the Park
Board may put out an rfp for another beverage vending machine contract.
The vending machines generate a good net profit for the MPRB – in the
low six figures. Yet, Commissioners are increasingly talking about their
desire to help reduce childhood obesity. This objective has sometimes
been the reason behind a policy or operations decisions. Soda pop is a
well-recognized contributor to childhood and teen obesity. At the same
time, the soda pop income is needed to make payments on the Ft Snelling
Neiman bonds. Will the Park Board go back to telling kids to drink free
water in the parks – and so fight childhood obesity? Or will the
lucrative vending machine income lead the Park Board to continue
offering empty calories that contribute to childhood obesity? Stay tuned
– the Coca Cola contract expired in August.)

If 500 athletes, unduplicated count, use the ball and soccer fields out
at Neiman, then the seasonal cost per athlete is over $2,000. If 1000
athletes are using those fields, then the cost drops to $1000+ per
athlete per season. I wonder how this compares to busy fields like those
at Pearl and Bryn Mawr. Or what the per athlete cost is for soccer,
football, all varieties of baseball, and hockey. For reasons I don’t
understand, these costs and other program costs are never discussed in
detail at Park Board meetings.

Sorry for meandering. Here is my comment on Mr. Russell’s story:

Saying that Mintahoe has invested $1 million at the Nicollet Island
Pavilion overstates the public benefit of Pavilion improvements.

Per Data Practices Request AAA135 — Nicollet Island Pavilion Book Value:
“The Nicollet Island Pavilion was renovated and the amount of the
renovation was capitalized on 12/31/2003. This improvement was
capitalized in the enterprise fund which records fixed assets as well as
straight line depreciation.” The remodeling was valued at $470,766 and
annual depreciation expense is $15,692. Book value of the Pavilion at
the end of 2007 was $407,997. The Pavilion is not worth $1 million more
because of Mintahoe expenditures.

I don’t know what improvements were capitalized but in 2002, the MPRB
and its roofing contractor applied for $252,641 in building and
remodeling permits at the Pavilion. See Minneapolis PropertyInfo db, 40
Power Street, 2002 Inspections Permits.

The Park Board also expanded one parking lot and built another for
Mintahoe. This work is not reflected in the city permit database. The
budget for Pavilion parking lot work was $110,700. Additionally, the
Park Board spent $25,228 to contract with a consultant to manage the
Pavilion improvements.

Shawne FitzGerald
Volunteer researcher for Park Watch

sf-Powderhorn

Nicollet Island: Cash cow or public park?

The following article by reporter Scott Russell appeared in the September 18th, 2008, on-line TC Daily Planet.

NICOLLET ISLAND PAVILION.

The Nicollet Island Pavilion appears to be a cash cow for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board and for a private catering company, but is it the park and open space promised to the public when it was bought with public funds in the 1980s?

The Park Board bought most of Nicollet Island—including the building that is now the Pavilion—with money from the Metropolitan Council. That money came with strings: The Park Board needed to devote the land exclusively to “regional recreational open space for public use.” If the Park Board wanted to lease out land, say to a catering company, it needed prior Met Council approval.

Today, Mintáhoe Hospitality Group has exclusive catering rights at the Nicollet Island Pavilion, under a deal first cut in 2002. However, its lease with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board contract could run afoul of the decades-old restrictive land use covenant that is only now being reviewed.

Critics of the deal have pushed public officials to investigate. Among the complaints, they have noted that Mintáhoe moved its corporate headquarters into the Pavilion, making it a private space. They got the Metropolitan Council’s attention and it is reviewing agreements old and new.

THE PAVILION’S PROMISE

Don Siggelkow, the Park Board’s General Manager of Administration is quick to list the Pavilion’s positives: Private investment has upgraded the once-industrial building and improved services. It is the most lucrative Park Board contract, raising $400,000 a year.

“We do things to try to generate income for the Park Board and serve the public,” he said. “We think this is a great example of doing that.”

The Pavilion used to be the Durkee Atwood Co., which made industrial belts, power transmission drives and weather stripping, according to old Star Tribune articles. (At the time the Park Board bought the building, Durkee was at odds with Island residents, who opposed its planned expansion.)

An April 29, 1988 Barbara Flanagan column predicted a wonderful reuse, saying the building could become “the most popular eating spot in downtown Minneapolis.” Park Board Secretary Harvey Feldman told her at the time that it would be open to the public about 70 percent of the time. During the other 30 percent, it would be rented for private parties, including wedding receptions.

Siggelkow said the Park Board hasn’t changed the Pavilion’s use since it opened. It was always an event center, even when the Park Board ran it. The outside patio area overlooking the river still is open to the public, he said.

Mintáhoe has invested approximately $1 million to upgrade the space. It added air conditioning, carpeting and tile and upgraded the bathrooms, kitchen, windows and boiler. (The Park Board paid for roof and the parking lot improvements.)

According to the Park Board website: “The 9,300 square-foot pavilion is equipped with state of the art sound, light, projection and wireless Internet systems. Inside, Nicollet Island Pavilion can seat 660 guests in a reception or meeting-style format, and as many as 1,500 for free-flow events. The expansive outdoor space allows as many as 10,000 to enjoy this venue. …Please contact one of Mintáhoe’s professional event consultants to learn how Mintáhoe can make you look great, and your next event unforgettable!”

The contract reserves the Pavilion for eight Park Board events, including New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day and July 4. The Park Board and Mintáhoe amended their contract in 2004. The changes included extending the term from 10 years to 22 years.

DEAR PARK BOARD

On August 7, Thomas Weaver, regional administrator for the Met Council, sent a letter to the Park Board saying his staff could find no documentation in its files that shows the Park Board requested or received Council approval, “to convey any interest in the pavilion property or to use the pavilion building and surrounding land for any purpose other than regional recreation open space purposes.”

The letter was addressed to Siggelkow, who said on September 9 that Park Board attorneys were still working on a response.

In a March 7, 2008 communication to the Minnesota Finance Department, the Park Board stated the following: “Unlike most other ‘use’ agreements, the Park Board’s catering agreement with Mintáhoe does not give Mintáhoe the use of the Facility. Instead, the public has the use of the Park Board’s Facility. Mintáhoe does schedule the bookings for the facility and does provide the catering service.”

One Nicollet Island resident, Edna Brazaitis, disagrees with that statement, saying that the Park Board effectively gave Mintáhoe control of the building and surrounding spaces. She is one of several critics of the deal who have done detailed research and pushed other units of government to investigate.

In an August 28, 2007 letter to the Department of Finance, Brazaitis said the Bicentennial Amphitheater next to the Pavilion used to have concerts and performances such as Shakespeare in the Park. They stopped after Mintáhoe took control, she said.

Shane Stenzel, Park Board manager of special services, explained why. He said there are still free concerts at the amphitheater three to four times a year, but groups cannot lease it. Other public events at the amphitheater clashed with some of the Pavilion’s events, he said. Parking is limited. Further, people in neighboring highrises complained about concert noise, he said.

Pavilion events, such as outdoor weddings, still use the amphitheater space, Stenzel said. He said groups looking for a nearby performance space could use the nearby Father Hennepin Bandstand next to the Stone Arch Bridge instead.

Braizitis’s letter also takes exception with Mintáhoe’s expanded use of Park Board space, a claim the Park Board doesn’t dispute.

Braizitis said Mintáhoe requested a building permit at the Pavilion to add office space in 2006. She has photos of signage stating that the Pavilion is Mintáhoe ’s corporate headquarters. That meant the business was running not only the Pavilion operation out of the Pavilion location, but its family of businesses as well, she said.

(Mintáhoe ’s website lists its businesses as Apples Catering, Perfect Host Catering & Special Events, Mintáhoe Beverage Services and catersource Magazine, Conference and Tradeshow.)

Since Mintáhoe pays the Park Board based on a percentage of catering sales, not a flat lease, the Park Board was not getting paid anything for the corporate headquarters, Braiztis said.

Sigglekow said Mintáhoe needs operations and sales staff on site at the Pavilion—but using the Pavilion as a corporate headquarters was not part of the agreement.

The Park Board gave Mintáhoe notice that it needed to move its headquarters off site, Siggelow said. The notice was given three months ago, when the Park Board discovered that Mintáhoe had moved more people to the Pavilion than it knew.

As of September 18, Mintáhoe’s website still listed the Nicollet Island Pavilion as the corporate office. Mintahoe did not return phone calls for comment regarding issues raised in this article.

Scott Russell is a journalist. He wrote for the Southwest Journal and Skyway News (now the Downtown Journal) in Minneapolis from 1999-2005. He also wrote for The Capital Times, a Madison Wisconsin daily, from 1993-1999.

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