'No Thanks' Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board Rejects Offer of Downtown East Park

By Dolesh, Richard J. | Parks & Recreation, October 2014 | Go to article overview

'No Thanks' Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board Rejects Offer of Downtown East Park


Dolesh, Richard J., Parks & Recreation


The City of Minneapolis' public park agency says the terms of operating a new multimillion dollar park adjacent to the new stadium would have an adverse impact on its budget and ability to serve all citizens

Imagine this: Your city plans to build a vibrant urban park adjacent to a new stadium in an underutilized portion of downtown that will enhance and expand the urban core of your city. It will be a public space pulsing with energy, people and economic activity. Every other week or so, a huge influx of people will fill the city center for the day--people bent on eating, drinking and having a good time. They will stay in hotels, eat in restaurants and congregate in the new downtown park, producing business receipts and tax revenue. Best of all, your new park will periodically provide a dramatic backdrop and focal point for one of the biggest sports spectacles in America--a National Football League game.

For many in the business community of the City of Minneapolis, this is the long-awaited vision for the rebirth of the Downtown East area of the city. This redevelopment will be a dream come true. But in the eyes of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, the public park agency of the City of Minneapolis, the Downtown East Park would be a nightmare come true that could lead the agency to financial ruin if it were to accept the agreement to operate the new park.

Arlene Fried, president of the Minneapolis volunteer advocacy group ParkWatch, pronounced her verdict on the agreement for the new Downtown East Park: "It's absolutely outrageous!" she says, "And you can quote me on that!"

As the negotiations behind the deal for the new park were revealed, it came as no surprise that the Park Board, which was in the dark about its terms, rejected the proposed Operator's Agreement. What originally seemed like a great deal for the city --a new public park built at developer expense to complement the "People's Stadium"--no longer appeared so favorable.

An editorial in the Minneapolis Star Tribune that grudgingly supported the city's plan to move forward without the involvement of the Park Board drew a mostly negative response. Commenters criticized the deal, the elected officials who put it together and the corporate interests that will benefit from it. "The taxpayers will be on the hook for this boondoggle," commented one. Another asserted, "This will, in NO WAY, ever be a public park." Former City Council Chairman Paul Ostrow, who eventually led a taxpayer lawsuit to attempt to derail the project, told NRPA, "It's an unbelievable story--people were deceived, public funds were squandered. You could write a book about this."

To say the least, substantial disagreements remain about the plans for the proposed public park that will be built by the Ryan Companies, the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA) and the owners of the Vikings, in association with the new stadium. Compounding the disagreements, in August 2014, the Park Board formally rejected consideration of the Operator's Agreement to manage what has been envisioned as a $6 million park in the initial phase because of what they considered wholly unacceptable terms.

How the situation arrived at this juncture mystifies virtually everyone who has followed the progress of the deal. Many are asking what transpired during the negotiations to turn what should be a win-win for the city into a huge headache. Most of those who have been involved in this project agree that the park at "The Yard" will eventually come to be funded, built and operated, but how it will be funded and who will assume operations are questions that remain to be answered.

The complex negotiations to create a public park with private funds on city-owned land adjacent to a privately owned stadium represent a cautionary tale not just for Minneapolis, but for any other urban metropolitan area contemplating a similar arrangement for a stadium park. …

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