Second Ward, Minneapolis

This is the public policy forum of Minneapolis Second Ward (Green) City Council Member Cam Gordon and his staff. We use this space to talk about some of what Cam’s working on, explain his positions, and share a little of what life in City Hall is like. Please feel free to comment on posts, within certain ground rules. See our disclaimer, including ground rules, here:

Friday, June 06, 2014

Whose Yard is it?

I agree (in part) with a recent Star Tribune editorial that it is time “tackle the Yard.” David Brauer and former Mayor Rybak are right to be worried about the future of this new downtown east park. 


So far it looks like the Vikings are ahead 21 – 3 midway through the third quarter and if we don’t up our game now this park will fall far short of its potential to be a real public jewel that would serve all Minneapolitans – and not just as an extension of the large commercial enterprise venue now under construction.


Yes, the Yard must welcome game-day visitors, tourists, and people who work downtown.  But if these are the only people who feel welcome there and use the park, we will have missed an enormous opportunity to improve the lives of our residents.


Let’s not forget that tens of thousands of people live within a mile of the Yard, in the Downtown East, Cedar Riverside, Elliot Park and Stevens Square neighborhoods, including the largest family-focused homeless shelter in Minnesota (one block away) and some of the densest subsidized and affordable housing in the city at Riverside Plaza and the Cedars public housing campus.  We must ask ourselves: how can this downtown park complement and build on amenities now available at the river, Eliot Park, Currie Park, and the Brian Coyle Center?


And let’s be crystal clear, unlike what the Star Tribune indicated when they wrote, “The city is getting, essentially, a free park…” the City and the people of Minneapolis are paying for this park. The Yard is not some gift from Wells Fargo, Ryan Corporation or the Vikings. We are using revenue from parking, in a ramp we are paying to build, to buy the land as an extension of the Vikings Stadium deal that will cost Minneapolis millions and millions of dollars. Minneapolis taxpayers are taking on risk for the Yard, and will have most, if not all, of our sales tax revenue obligated, totaling hundreds of millions of dollars, for decades to come because of the stadium deal that made it possible.


This is our opportunity to create a park that will serve all the people in our city, including children, young people, young families and seniors.  What park amenities do our people need and want now and what will they need in the future?  What if we could add a full-service park facility as part of the Yard?  If it is too late to build that into the plan, how could we assist with the renovation and repurposing of the historic Armory into not only an event center but also a downtown youth and fitness center with homework help, midnight basketball, career planning, congregate dining for seniors, early childhood and family education programs and more depending on the needs now and into the future?


From the start, many of us, including the former mayor, have been calling for active public uses like youth soccer and lacrosse, outdoor concerts, movies, and ice skating.


To reach that goal we need to do a few things immediately:

1.       Determine the ownership. Our Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board is the obvious choice. Make this part of our nationally renowned, award-winning system, overseen by a democratically elected board who are accountable to the residents of Minneapolis.

2.       Halt and reverse the giveaway of park time to the commercial uses of the sports teams and the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority. Granting them exclusive use and access to a minimum number of events makes some sense, but additional days beyond the maximum of 62 already approved by the City Council is unacceptable. Letting them apply for additional days and events and compete with other alternatives within a fair and open process like everyone else makes more sense. Allowing one user to tie up the space for 3 days for one 2 hour event is unnecessary, inefficient and inequitable. Last December the Council approved a term sheet that (by my math at the time) would have granted use of the park area to the Vikings or the Sports Authority for 62 days out of the year.  In February Ryan and the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority signed an agreement that appears to give a possible them exclusive rights to a whopping 118 days. This is unacceptable and is not what City policymakers approved. Let’s fix this now.

3.       Establish a funding source for both building out the park and facilities, as well as to manage operations and programing.  This should include fees from some of the major users, like the Vikings, use of revenues the city will receive from Ryan for the “air” rights to build on our parking ramp as well as park dedication fees and fundraising from a group like a downtown park conservancy.


We also need to resolve some other issues, not immediately, but soon:

1.       We need to resolve who will handle operations. The former mayor and others are suggesting that a new entity be formed, or that an existing nonprofit be used.  I favor letting the Park Board handle programing and operations.  This is what they do and they do it well throughout the city. There is built in accountability through an election process where elected representatives from all parts of the City would provide oversight of professional staff who have demonstrated competency in managing the programing of large and active public spaces.  Lake Harriet, Theodore Wirth, the River Front in St. Anthony Main, the Chain of Lakes, Minnehaha Park, Powderhorn Park and another downtown park, Loring Park, have all been managed, maintained and programed with great success for decades by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. All of us who have been in Minneapolis for even a few years can remember these spaces teeming with people from all walks of life exercising, recreating, picnicking, enjoying festivals, youth sports, music, movies and more. This is exactly what we should want to see happening at our new downtown park. 

2.       We need to settle on a design for the park. It should be done with community involvement and with the present and future needs of residents in mind.  Let’s not let the demands of one commercial enterprise for all sidewalks to lead to the stadium or for open flexible space for their tent cities, mean that we don’t get a single bench, swing set, basketball court, soccer field, barbecue, amphitheater, fountain, wading pool or volleyball net, if that is what a community-focused design process informs us is needed and wanted.


Once these things are determined, then the owners and operators of this great new public park can fully engage to make sure it is used by and programed for everyone in a way that is fair, equitable and supports the common good. 


Let’s make sure this is a safe, well used, well run and active park.  We need something more than what we find at Gold Medal Park: a suburban-landscaped-industrial-park-like pass-through greenspace.  We need a destination park with programing, active uses and busy with people from all walks of life and all sectors of our great City. Let’s do this right so in the end will truly be a Yard for everyone in Minneapolis.