For the first time, the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board is writing comprehensive plans for every one of the city’s neighborhood parks, documents meant to guide development of the spaces for the next 20 to 30 years.
But while the board has already finished roadmaps for parks in much of the city — including north Minneapolis, northeast, southeast and downtown — one section of the work remains incomplete: The Southwest Service Area Master Plan, which covers the 40-plus parks south of Interstate 394 and west of I-35W.
Members of the project’s Citizen Advisory Committee, who will ultimately recommend a version of the master plan to the park board, have yet to make decisions on a large chunk of the design work. One reason for that: Whether it’s adding pickleball courts or helping pollinators, neighborhood leaders and residents have a lot of strong opinions on how, or what, their parks should look like in 20 years.
“There’s a really grassroots effort to hear what folks would like,” MPRB project leader Colleen O’Dell said in an interview last week. “People love their parks.”
Minneapolis Parks’ first comprehensive plan. Ever.
In 2016, the board and the city of Minneapolis made an agreement to revamp the way neighborhood parks receive money, aiming to reform a system that historically invested more money into the city’s more affluent, and whiter, neighborhoods.
The deal included an annual $11 million boost and established new criteria for ranking the parks’ need for new money, dubbed an “Equity Matrix,” that measures everything from a neighborhood’s socioeconomic mix to youth population.
But with that new matrix in place, parks officials needed plans for how, exactly, to spend the money. That’s where the master plans for neighborhood parks come in. (The long-range planning is separate from work on the regional park system, which includes parks surrounding the Mississippi River and the Chain of Lakes and is under the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Council.)
“In the 130-plus years of our history, we’ve never done a comprehensive master planning of all of our neighborhood parks. We’ve just done [improvements to] them one at a time,” O’Dell said. “This’ll be the first time that we … have plans for all of them.”
Shortly after the 2016 decision, MPRB’s nine-member elected board of commissioners approved long-range plans for neighborhood parks south of downtown and east of Interstate 35W, as well as those in the city’s urban core. Then, in the spring of 2019, the board finalized the North Service Area Master Plan (which covers areas west of the Mississippi and north of Interstate 394) and the East of the River Park Master Plan (which pertains to northeast and southeast Minneapolis.)
While that planning wrapped up, park staff fielded feedback from visitors of parks in the city’s Linden Hills, East Harriet, Kingfield, Lynnhurst, Tangletown, Windom, Kenny, Armatage and Fulton neighborhoods for the Southwest Parks Plan. In response to the comments, staff released a series of drafts for the document and coordinated the citizen-led advisory committee (CAC), which eventually split into subcommittees to give each portion of the plan more focus.
From the start of planning for the Southwest Parks Plan, park staff heard from residents who want more construction projects that create more green space and those who, instead, want MPRB to spend more money on facilities for recreation and sports, O’Dell said.
For example, ideas for redeveloping Lynnhurst Park — which is at the intersection of 50th Street West and Minnehaha Parkway — drew a lot of interest from the start, O’Dell said, namely over the plan’s amount of space for ballfields vs. greenery.
After a series of neighborhood meetings, members of the citizens’ committee eventually agreed on a preliminary design for the park that includes new pedestrian bridges over Minnehaha Creek, baseball diamonds and playing fields, as well as play spaces with a pollinator lawn and patio seating at a future community center. “It’s a pretty visionary design,” O’Dell said. “Helping people wrap their heads around the ideas and why they might be proposed — it’s taken some time and generated a lot of response.”
The citizens’ committee has also agreed to remove the Lyndale School Wading Pool on Minnehaha Avenue from the MPRB system, primarily because it’s near Painter Park, where the plan proposes a different new water facility: a splash pad.
The committee also wants an additional full basketball court and new skate park at Painter. But like other proposals in the Southwest Parks Plan, the new development would come at the cost of existing parking spaces, which has irked some homeowners in the neighborhoods who say parking is already competitive and less space will only make matters worse.
A similar idea to add volleyball courts on the mall between Lake Bde Maka Ska and Hennepin Avenue sparked criticism for its use of space. “If this park goes in, my property value will take a hit,” one person commented on the plan. “No one will want to live in a place where they cannot park their cars.”
Meanwhile, for Mueller Park in the Lowry Hill East neighborhood, the debate is over whether to expand the existing half-court basketball to a full court or remodel an existing bathroom building to have a green roof and pollinator plantings, O’Dell said. “The neighborhood really wants that to be a showcase experimental park.”
What to do with Parade Park?
While the advisory committee has reached agreement on many concepts, questions over more complicated aspects of the Southwest Parks Plan remain. Members hashed out ideas Tuesday at a meeting in the Kenwood neighborhood, which was called to help CAC members fill in some of those remaining holes. One was looking at proposals to change Parade Park near I-394 and the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. Roughly three dozen residents and a couple of parks commissioners joined the meeting to listen to the committee members’ ideas and share some of their concerns.
Currently, the draft plan calls for a new tree plaza for events and a multilevel parking ramp to hold several hundred vehicles, as well as additional trails, new artificial turf fields and a domed roof over seating for the parade baseball stadium.
Several attendees told committee members that their children use Parade Ice Garden for hockey, a facility that includes two full-size rinks and one smaller one; they feel a bigger indoor ice arena is needed given the year-round demand for the facility. “Our life is this space,” one woman said.
But others in the crowd criticized the scope of ideas for Parade, saying they focus too heavily on the needs of the entire city instead of those of the neighborhood. “I think this has gone way overboard for scale,” one attendee said.
In a letter to O’Dell, Jennifer Breitinger, president of the Lowry Hill Neighborhood Association, said the association has felt excluded by MPRB’s efforts to redevelop Parade Park thus far, and so it is requesting that the citizen-advisory committee table its discussion.
“One of our principal concerns is traffic management,” she wrote. “Pulling in and out of an already limited parking area and Parade Road are, in the words of some of our [association] board members, a ‘ticking time bomb’ where ‘some kid is gonna get hit.’”
The back-and-forth at Tuesday night’s meeting lasted almost two hours and resulted in few conclusions. In the end, MPRB project manager Adam Arvidson sided with the requests for a pause to give parks staff more time to adjust their vision and give members of the citizen advisory committee more time to make decisions. “We just need to bring back another design for you that addresses some of the conversations that we had today,” Arvidson told the crowd.
The connection conundrum
Beyond Parade Park, the committee is still weighing designs for Linden Hills, Pershing, Armatage and Kenny parks, all of which have a heavy demand for field space, O’Dell said.
The CAC is also exploring the option of adding pickleball at Kenwood Park. Other proposals for that park include a wet meadow with a walkway, which would serve a duel purpose of managing stormwater and giving students of the neighboring Kenwood Elementary School new recreation, as well as a new path through the top of the hill.
But one of the most contentious aspects of planning for that area, she said, is how parks officials decide to connect Parade Park, Cedar Lake Trail, the Lake of the Isles and the Grand Rounds trail with a new bikeway. An earlier version of the master plan put the trail alongside Kenwood Parkway, but residents and neighborhood leaders pushed back against that idea, asking for a route that would go through Kenwood Park instead.
The CAC will discuss that issue and some remaining topics on Monday, when it will also schedule a final stretch of meetings to recommend a concept plan to the board.
Once that final decision by the CAC occurs, the MPRB will review — and possibly change — the committee’s ideas, host a public hearing and eventually adopt what is the final piece of the system’s comprehensive plans for neighborhood parks. (Not until those later steps will parks staff release a cost estimate for the redevelopment, Arvidson said.)
“A lot has changed in the city in the last 20 or 30 years,” O’Dell said of the high interest among residents. “Folks’ interest in naturalized areas of pollinator plantings, bike parks and skate parks and pickleball — these are things that weren’t accommodated earlier.”