City, Park Board envision Sea Salt-style vendor for Downtown East park

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July 19, 2013 // UPDATED 12:40 pm - July 20, 2013
By: Nick Halter
Nick Halter

On the heels of a City Council green light for a $400 million Downtown East development proposal, Mayor R.T. Rybak today discussed the possibility of a restaurant in a new downtown park that would be in the mold of Sea Salt Eatery or Tin Fish.

“Our idea would be to create a destination restaurant that could generate revenue back to operate The Yard in the spirit of Sea Salt and Tin Fish,” Rybak said.

As part of the development proposal, the city could sell back a small piece of the two blocks of parkland to developer Ryan Cos. for a smaller development. Ryan Cos. would then give the city rights to open up the first floor of the development to a restaurant.

That’s where the Minneapolis Park Board would come in. The Park Board has a history of issuing requests for proposals to allow private vendors to do business on park property.

That model has been a success at several locations. Tin Fish operates on the north shore of Lake Calhoun. Sea Salt Eatery is popular seafood restaurant that is run out of a Park Board building near Minnehaha Falls. Bread & Pickle opened last summer near the Lake Harriet Bandshell.

The Park Board generally takes a cut of vendor revenue.  For example, Tin Fish paid the Park Board $169,000 in 2011.

Park Board President John Erwin said the Park Board would be interested in having two vendors at a new park, and he said his conservative estimate is that each would generate $150,000 annually. Maintaining a park downtown would likely cost $300,000, Erwin said.

While Erwin and Rybak are in agreement about the idea of the Park Board opening the downtown park to private restaurants, it’s unclear if they agree about who should own the park.

The city expects to pay about $15 million to buy the two blocks and several million more to green the space and add amenities.

“We don’t have the resources to build the park,” Erwin said. “That would have to be an effort by the city and the developer.”

Erwin said the Park Board should own the land because the Park Board has shown a commitment to keeping green spaces green.

“The Park Board’s position has been that, why wouldn’t the city want the No. 1 rated park system in the nation to run the park?” Erwin said.

Rybak has not said specifically who would own the land.

 “The city is the developer of this, and then Park Board would be the operator, whether they eventually get ownership or not,” he said.

Rick Collins, vice president of development for Ryan Cos., said Ryan Cos. is contemplating residential development on that piece of land and is open to the restaurant idea.

“We anticipate inclusion of some space that would be supportive of park retail services or food offerings,” Collins said. “And we are open to conversation about Sea Salt or some similar restaurant.”