Digging into the details of the Downtown East park

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January 7, 2014
By: Ben Johnson
A daytime rendering of what the proposed Downtown park could look like
Ryan Cos.
Ben Johnson
A FAQ for one of the most high-profile parks projects in recent Minneapolis history

For several months Minneapolis has been planning to build a park on the doorstep of the new Vikings stadium as part of the massive, recently-approved Downtown East development. A committee put together by former Mayor R.T. Rybak to plan the park has met three times, a controversial lawsuit regarding the park has been decided and bonds to pay for the first phase of its construction are scheduled to be issued at the end of January. Here’s what else we know:

What will the park look like?

The park measures one and two-thirds city blocks, or 3.4 acres. That doesn’t include Portland Avenue, which bisects the park, or Park Avenue, which serves as its eastern border. Hennepin County owns both of those streets and have been strongly opposed to closing a portion of either of them for the park.

The eastern block (closest to the stadium) will be left mostly open to accommodate events put on by the Vikings and the Minnesota Sports Facility Authority (MSFA). The western section will cover two-thirds of a block, butting up against an 100 to 125-unit apartment building that is planned for the rest of the block.

At this stage members of the Park Committee are still brainstorming and researching a vast array of ideas for the western section of the park, but conversations with committee members indicate that they are moving forward with the idea that at least one “signature feature” will be included. Ideas for that feature have included a multi-purpose playing field, an ice skating track or rink, and a zip line, among many, many other things.

“My hope and expectation is that it will be a unique park, something exciting … we don’t want it to be just a green pad,” said Park Board Commissioner John Erwin.


Who will own it?

Originally the city of Minneapolis planned to own the park, but Hennepin County Judge Mel Dickstein ruled that the Park Board, not the city, must own it as result of a lawsuit filed by former mayoral candidates Stephanie Woodruff and Dan Cohen and former City Council President Paul Ostrow.

Only one Park Board employee, Assistant Superintendent for Planning Bruce Chamberlin, was included on the city’s 24-person committee in charge of planning the park. Park Board commissioners have been privately griping for weeks about their lack of influence on one of the most-expensive, high-profile park projects in recent city history, and Dickstein’s ruling seemed to vindicate their complaints.

“I think [the city] was more interested in partnering with the MSFA and the Vikings and really should’ve included more people like the Park Board from the beginning,” said Park Board President Liz Wielinski. “If you don’t bring in all of the players at the beginning, you’re going to have fights after the fact.”

Who has access to it?

The Vikings have exclusive use of the entire park on days in which they have a home game (eight regular season, two preseason, and potentially two playoff games) and up to 10 additional days per year. The MSFA will have exclusive use of just the eastern block on up to 40 days per year.

Otherwise the park will be open to the public and subject to Park Board policies like any other public park in Minneapolis.

How much is this going to cost taxpayers?

Minneapolis is paying Ryan Cos. $20 million to prep the land for a park. Ryan will purchase the land from the Star Tribune, demolish the buildings and tear up the parking lot, complete environmental testing, plant grass and install new sidewalks and lighting surrounding the property.

After that ownership will be transferred to the city, which is scheduled to take place on July 1, 2016. Any further construction of park amenities will be funded through private contributions and the sale of development rights over the adjacent parking ramp. The Vikings have pledged $1 million to jumpstart the fundraising campaign and Minneapolis has budgeted an additional $500,000 for capital improvements.

How much private money will need to be raised?

That figure varies widely depending on the types of amenities the Park Committee decides on. Cumberland Park was built on 6.5 acres of former parking lots used by the Tennessee Titans in Nashville. It opened in 2012 and cost $12 million, but it is roughly twice the size what Minneapolis is planning and has a lot of amenities: a ropes course, climbing wall, hiking trail, amphitheater and a “spraygrounds” that shoots water jets into the air for kids to play in.

Gold Medal Park, situated on the Mississippi River just six blocks away from the Downtown East development, spans 7.5 acres and cost $3 million, but it does not have any major amenities or structures.

“We have two tracks. One is figuring out what this park is and the other is figuring out what we can afford,” said Rybak at the last Park Committee meeting on Dec. 12. “On some level what we raise is influenced by what we have. If we have this great, compelling idea we can go out and sell it.”

What about annual operating costs?

There has been some disagreement among Park Board commissioners on figuring out how to pay for the park’s ongoing maintenance costs.

Erwin favors a plan that would rely on income from rental fees and vendors (most likely a restaurant) renting space within the park. Gold Medal Park, a passive space with low-end operating expenses, costs $150,000 per year to maintain, and last year the Park Board received $300,000 from Sea Salt, the highest grossing restaurant on Park Board property.

Wielinski disagrees with that plan. Instead, she would like to see the city to kick in money to help pay for maintenance.

“I think it would be smarter to have an income stream that’s a little more consistent. It could be an additional piece to our general fund that comes from the city, it could be some of the city sales tax,” said Wielinksi. “A part of the city sales tax is dedicated to the Vikings stadium and this seems to be part of that…there’s options out there and we need to look at them with the city.