Neighbors oppose plan to use riverfront site for storage

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July 17, 2014
By: Ben Johnson
An aerial view of the Park Board's new $4 million operations center proposed for 1720 Marshall St. NE
Park Board
Ben Johnson
Park Board's $4 million plan would address pressing need while waiting to buy more of eastern riverfront to connect parks

Neighbors are unhappy with the Park Board’s plan to use recently acquired riverfront property to accommodate its pressing need for secure, indoor space to store maintenance equipment.

The Park Board purchased 1720 Marshall St. NE in October 2012 for $1.37 million, aided by $609,000 from the Met Council and a $202,000 grant from the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization. The 1.74-acre parcel of land is a key link in Minneapolis’s ambitious Above the Falls Master Plan, which calls for a continuous strip of parks and trails covering both banks of the Mississippi River from the Plymouth Avenue Bridge up to the city’s northern border.

The process of acquiring and developing all of that land will take years, potentially decades, so in the interim the Park Board has proposed to use 1720 Marshall to address its dire need for indoor storage space in north and northeast Minneapolis.

“I’ve stepped up and moved more staff to these areas so that we can do a better job of taking care of them, but I have supervisors who oversee 30-40 people that don’t have a place for a phone, computer or bathroom,” said Lisa Beck, the Park Board’s director of asset management. “And we have millions of dollars worth of equipment that sits outside, rusting and getting tampered with in the offseason.”

The Park Board’s $4 million proposal includes a complete renovation of the 37,780-square-foot building that sits on the site and a new, narrow strip of parkland along the property’s 350 feet of riverfront. The project aims to ease crowding in two operations centers in north and northeast Minneapolis where forestry, golf and maintenance crews share space.

The building would be named after Michael P. Schmidt, who retired last April after working for the Park Board for more than 30 years.

Northeasters who live in the area empathize with the Park Board’s need for storage space, but they’re wary of any new industrial uses on the riverfront after spending decades recovering from the collapse of blue-collar industry and subsequent pollution cleanup.

“I get that this is a great solution for you guys, but this is the absolute antithesis of what we’ve been trying to do here for years,” said Sheridan Neighborhood Organization board member Jenny Fortman during a July 15 public meeting on the plan.

At the meeting neighbors also complained about increased noise from the seven or eight snowplows that would come and go from the parking lot and the new building potentially decreasing property values of nearby homes.

The current building at 1720 Marshall sits vacant due to a leaky roof -- photo by Ben Johnson

‘It’s like sneaking behind a prison’

Residents at the meeting questioned spending $4 million on a project that was described by Park Board staff as a “temporary use” for the land. Under the current plan the building will be LEED-certified, use special screening on windows to prevent birds from flying into them and put on a new “light roof” to reduce the urban heat island effect.

“Wouldn’t it be cheaper to find a property in a more industrial part of the city and build a permanent facility?” asked Northeast resident Mary Jamin Maguire at the meeting. “I’m sick of the riverfront being treated like this. There’s no service center on the beach at Lake Harriet, I’ll tell you that.”

Neighbors pressed the Park Board to consider alternative options like the city-owned site at 27th and University Avenue, which was slated to become a household hazardous waste facility before that plan was put on hold last summer in part due to strong neighborhood opposition.

Park Board President Liz Wielinski, who represents Northeast, was at the meeting to defend the project, along with Vice President Scott Vreeland and at-large Commissioner Meg Forney.

“I know it’s not a fabulous solution for Northeast…but if we take this money and move it somewhere else, that building [at 1720 Marshall] is going to sit. You’re not going to get access to the riverfront, you’re not going to have an overlook, you’re not going to have the stormwater taken care of,” said Wielinski in response to sharp criticism from the audience.

Right now the building’s leaky roof prevents it from being used for anything, and Psycho Suzi’s has a month-to-month lease with the Park Board to use the parking lot for valet parking.

Top: A photo of what the riverfront along the property looks like today

Bottom: A rendering of new riverfront parkland the Park Board would create behind its new operations center

The renderings of the riverfront parklet that would be created behind the building are impressive, showing a walkway with an extended river overlook, a mini arboretum with a number of native plantings, bike racks and a rain garden.

However, to get to the riverfront people will have to travel along a covered security fence designed to prevent the break-ins that have plagued the Park Board’s current operations facilities.

“It’s like you’re sneaking behind a prison,” quipped Fortman.

Park Board staff pledged to continue to work with the neighborhood to make the project more palatable before its public hearing at the Aug. 20 Park Board meeting.

Improvements to the streetscape, more and bigger windows and artwork done by members of the Northeast Arts District were all requests brought up by residents at the meeting.

“This will house the people and machines that do the dirty work to take care of your parks, and I hope you all don’t lose sight of that,” said Beck, in an impassioned speech at the meeting. “They deserve a decent place to work.”

Ben Johnson // 612-436-5088 // bjohnson@journalmpls.com // @johnsonbend