Is the Vikings stadium park still public if the Park Board doesn’t run it?

Ryan Cos.
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.

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.” 

Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 05/22/2014 - 01:13 pm.

    Ownership implies control

    I’m sure it’s not an absolute rule, and I make no claims to being an attorney, but it seems a reasonable implication.

    Ownership not only implies control, that implied control brings with it responsibilities, especially in this context of a park or plaza. If the Park Board owns it, but doesn’t control it, then I think what we have is yet another amenity for the privileged, paid for by those who are not. Let it be a “plaza.” If the “Sports Authority” or some other similar entity owns it, then they’re the ones responsible for maintenance and upkeep, and if it’s not truly a public park because the public can routinely be denied access in favor of the Vikings or the “Sports Authority,” then by all means let the “Sports Authority” take on that responsibility and that cost.

    Mr. Wilf his political allies have already fleeced Minneapolis taxpayers enough. I’m not keen on the addition of a “park” over which the Park Board has only limited control, but all the maintenance responsibilities.

  2. Submitted by Bill O'Reilly on 05/22/2014 - 02:38 pm.

    transparent

    This maybe the only transparent thing about this whole stadium fiasco. It is plain to me that the ‘public’ park will be nothing of the sort. The instant they mentioned that it might be ‘farmed out’ it became another part of the ‘game day experience’ for Wilf and his merry band. We are dumber than a box of rocks, and I apologize to the rocks.

  3. Submitted by Chris Johnson on 05/23/2014 - 09:11 am.

    Sports Authority is the proper owner/operator

    As usual, Brian Rice’s opinion is completely colored by the politics and finances of what’s best for him, not for the public or the Park Board.

    As pointed out by the previous comments, the entire reason for trying to force this creature to be owned by the Park Board is so that the Vikings and the Sports Authority can dump the cost of maintenance onto some other taxpayer-funded entity.

    The Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA) could certainly handle ownership and maintenance itself. It makes logical sense to call the open space adjacent to the stadium a “sports plaza” or “stadium plaza” as that is exactly what “The Yard” is. The only debate is about who pays for its operation and maintenance. Clearly the Vikings benefit significantly by having the taxpayer pay for its upkeep.

    The MSFA is the correct entity to own, operate and maintain “The Yard.” They have the budget ($20 million plus in revenue) and its directly related to their primary function.

  4. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 05/23/2014 - 11:44 am.

    It’s truly distressing to see Atty. Brian Rice suddenly be the arbiter for assuring that Minneapolis taxpayers pick up the perpetual maintenance tab for a park the Vikings insist on having next to their stadium so they can stage events and deny access to the public.

    Now is the time for the Board of Park Commissioners to step up, and do their job. Where are they in this? Where are their voices, not Rice’s?

    People have not thought of what legitimate public parks in our city will be denied programs and maintenance, with huge annual monies devoted to maintaining something actually designed by the sports authority, not our Park Board. Lordy lord.

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