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Minneapolis’ ‘antiquated facilities’ can’t match suburban recreation attractions

City of St. Louis Park
The St. Louis Park Recreation Center, just a bike ride away from Minneapolis, has a huge outdoor aquatic park, two indoor ice rinks, two banquet rooms, indoor skateboarding and a full menu of sports leagues.

When the suburb next door has a very fancy aquatic park, Minneapolis residents are willing to forget about the ukulele lessons and ballet classes offered for 3-year olds at their neighborhood recreation center and cross the city line for a taste of the plush life in the ’burbs.

“We have antiquated facilities,” the city’s superintendent of Parks and Recreation told members of the City Council’s Ways and Means/Budget Committee.

Superintendent Jayne Miller described nearby state-of-the-art water parks and indoor climbing walls as amenities that draw Minneapolis residents to suburban facilities. “The suburbs,” she said Tuesday, “have much more comprehensive programs.”

Minneapolis operates 47 recreation centers but does not have the resources necessary to staff and fund activity levels to compete with the suburbs, according to the department’s budget book presented.  To this end, the Park and Recreation Board will begin a two-year process to study the problem and come up with a plan in 2014.

Already the department predicts that seven centers will be reducing their service hours from 28 to 14 a week, based on size of the facility and current use. Some of the centers were not originally designed for recreation.

“If my child wants a certain kind of water experience, it’s not the end of the world if I cross over to St. Louis Park to get that experience,” said Council Member Cam Gordon, who suggested the park board seek regional partnerships.

Unlike Minneapolis’ system of rec centers, many suburbs opt for one large center with many attractions. The St. Louis Park Recreation Center, just a bike ride away from Minneapolis, has a huge outdoor aquatic park, two indoor ice rinks, two banquet rooms, indoor skateboarding and a full menu of sports leagues.

“We are missing the boat in many areas,” said Miller who noted that one of the challenges facing Minneapolis is likely public criticism over the cut in hours because the rec centers are closely tied to neighborhoods.

Miller would not speculate which centers might be candidates for reduced hours or what new programs might be added. The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board expects to approve a  2013 budget that has a zero increase in property tax use.

New plan for tree removal

The most risky job on the Park Board staff is taking care of the 200,000 trees that line city streets and the thousands more in its parks and along the trails. Injuries to forestry employees account for 9 percent of the total for the entire park and rec staff.

“We don’t have the best safety record as an organization,” said Miller who has added an occupational health and safety officer to the staff.

Most of the injuries occur when large tree limbs or trunks are being fed into  chippers parked on city streets. This practice will be eliminated, with the hope of lowering the injury rate and increasing efficiency.

In the new process, downed limbs, tree trunks and brush will be mechanically loaded onto trucks and moved to a central chipping site. The Park and Recreation Department plans to purchase two additional aerial tower bucket trucks and four additional log loaders.

Large chippers and many trucks will be removed from the fleet, reducing the number of vehicles from 62 to 46, a reduction of 28 percent. The new system is estimated to increase productivity by 40 percent and save $400,000 annually.

The department also is reorganizing top management staff and is in the process of hiring a deputy superintendent responsible for day-to-day operations. With the changes, the number of assistant superintendents will drop from five to three.

City ‘out of recession’

After the morning parks session, the budget committee shifted its attention to the Community Planning and Economic Development Department.

Its recommended 2013 budget totals $81.9 million, including two programs now in Regulatory Services. Without that transfer, though, the recommended budget would drop to $74.1 million.

Department Director Jeremy Hanson Willis would not comment on the status of the possible transfer of 67 jobs in the Business Licensing and Development Review functions. Mayor R.T. Rybak has suggested the change in seeking to reorganize Regulatory Services.

“This continues to be one of those pieces [of the budget] that is in motion,” said Hanson Willis.  The committee is scheduled to hear an update Thursday on the reorganization process.

Although reluctant to talk about the reorganization, Hanson Willis was not shy about an economic turnaround in the city.

“The City of Minneapolis is out of the recession,” said Hanson Willis. “Job creation in Minneapolis is outpacing the state, the region and the nation.”

In the previous quarter, Minneapolis issued 1.430 permits for the construction of residential housing units, a number unmatched since 2006. Most of that will be for rental housing, with developers investing $126 million, compared with an average of $65 million a quarter.

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Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by mark wallek on 10/31/2012 - 12:39 pm.

    Talk to Ziggy

    As much as I would like to see recreational services in the top tier for the city, I honestly cannot afford any sort of increase in fees and taxes, which we all know are coming anyway, for something. Given the success of professional sport as a capital generating enterprise, I think that the private sector can adequately fill in here, without any strings attached. Any more burden on my low middle class budget is not tolerable, even for a good cause. It’s just getting too tight.

  2. Submitted by David Frenkel on 10/31/2012 - 02:49 pm.

    Old Story

    Minneapolis has always had a shortage of rec facilities and never could compete with the suburbs. This is an old story. I grew up in Minneapolis and when I played teams in the suburbs I wasn’t sure what the green stuff was on the football field, but I now know it was grass. I still remember playing organized tackle football at Webber Park and there was a manhole for field drainage in the middle of the football field which made for a obstacle to avoid.
    South Minneapolis has the lakes and north/NE Minneapolis got the outdoor pools and that is about it. Unfortunately every parks superintendent over the decades had an agenda and most of the time youth were not top of the list.

  3. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 10/31/2012 - 03:11 pm.

    North’s may have been earlier, via some private donation up in Webber, but there was no swimmable outdoor water on the East Side of Minneapolis until Walt Dziedzic convinced a private businessman (Jim Lupient) to provide millions to do the NE water park–in the 1990s.

    People in South and Southwest Minneapolis have no idea how close their facilities are to what the suburbs offer, compared to the poverty of what’s available on the East Side and in North Minneapolis. Since the wealthy lived in what suburbs there were until after WW II, when suburbs blossomed for the first time, they have always had finer recreational facilities, most of them private, actually (golf or country clubs, etc.).

    Minneapolis has been stingy with its money for recreation in parts of the city for a long time. The new superintendent has a point, and we should let her make it without screaming again and again about our taxes. Our taxes don’t extend very far for parks these days.

  4. Submitted by Sean Ryan on 11/01/2012 - 12:08 am.

    pool corrections

    NE has had a large outdoor pool at NE Park since at least the 70s, commonly refered to as ‘Hayfield’ or ‘Rosacker’ Pool. Mr. lupient just paid to renovate and add water slides in the 2000s. Not to mention all the 1930s/40s era wading pools. Webber Pool was built in 1910, using water diverted from Shingle Creek.

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