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