A citizens group claims it will be “very difficult” for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board to develop and take over a planned park adjacent to the new Vikings stadium.
Minneapolis Park Watch reached that conclusion after attending the first Downtown East Park Committee meeting May 8. The committee is charged with working out development and operating plans for the nearly two-block park currently known as the Yard.
“The Vikings and the Sports Authority will have exclusive use of the Yard for about 80 days a year, and the Vikings and the Sports Authority, not the Park Board, get to choose those days,” Park Watch said on its website. “So for 80 days a year, the Yard is private.”
According to the Star Tribune, park operations could be contracted to a third-party conservancy or nonprofit consisting of city, park board and community representatives, plus the Vikings and developer Ryan Cos. Ryan is developing the $400 million Wells Fargo complex bordering the park, plus a parking ramp that serves Wells Fargo and the stadium. They bought the park site that will ultimately be conveyed to the Park Board.
Park Watch notes that Vikings and the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Authority have design elements and standards in their contract with Ryan and the city that require the Park Board follow their lead.
According to the deal, the Vikings have exclusive use of the entire park for up to 22 days a year, and the Sports Facilities Authority has exclusive use of the east block 40 days a year. They would control merchandising at the park on those days.
“It’s not going to be within the Park Board purview to scheduled it (the Yard) as it does for other parks,” Park Watch co-founder Arlene Fried says. “Other individuals are going to schedule it. When you own something, you should be able to control it.”
Concludes Fried, “When the park system does not have control, it’s not a public park. I think it’s not a public park. It’s a plaza.”
“The park is going to come with conditions,” acknowledges Park Board attorney Brian Rice. “That doesn’t mean we can’ t operate.”
Rice cites two current park properties operated with conditions imposed by others: the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and the Walker Sculpture Garden, which both occupy Park Board-owned land.
The MIA land was donated to the Park Board with the condition that a museum be built. Every year, the Park Board turns over to the museum proceeds from a Hennepin County tax, currently about $11 million, Rice says.
At the Sculpture Garden, the sculptures are the Walker Art Center’s property, but on Park Board-owned land.
(Rice also notes 400 acres at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport sit on Park Board property the state claimed in 1943.)
In response to a lawsuit filed last December, Hennepin District Court Judge Mel Dickstein ruled that the Park Board is the only governing body that can own and operate parks in Minneapolis, as specified by the City Charter.
Park Watch contends that at the time of Dickstein’s ruling, it was not known that there would be stipulations that, in their view, would disqualify the Yard from being a Minneapolis park.
“I think the Park Board is fulfilling its obligations under the city charter,” said Rice, who adds that it is clear to him the Park Board has to own the land and make decisions about how park is operated, such as contracting with a third party.
Five concerned citizens founded Park Watch in 2004, including current Park Board President Liz Wielinski. They were determined to attend all Park Board meetings and post their notes online.
The woman that Wielinski now supervises, Parks Supt. Jayne Miller, says it would not be appropriate for her to comment on Park Watch’s claims.
“We are in the very early stages of discussions with the city,” Miller says, adding that the governments are “working through delicate issues.”’
Fried’s opinion is clear: “I think it would be better if the Park Board did not accept this gift.”