Parks update

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January 3, 2011 // UPDATED 9:26 am - January 3, 2011
By: Jake Weyer
Jake Weyer
Wirth House becomes a home

The historic Theodore Wirth house at 3954 Bryant Ave. S. is occupied for the first time in 15 years.

Ann Arbor, Mich., transplant Jayne Miller, hired in October as superintendent of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, moved in just before Christmas. She signed a six-month lease, agreeing to pay $640 a month for the first-floor kitchen and two second-floor bedrooms.

“It’s a wonderful house,” Miller said. “It’s gorgeous, beautiful. I think it’s a wonderful place to live.”

Miller said she decided to live in the home, which has served as a residence for several park leaders since it was built for Superintendent Theodore Wirth in 1910, while she gets acquainted with the city. When the lease is up, she’ll decide whether to stay or buy elsewhere.  

“If I do decide to move, it gives me a chance to get to know the city a little better,” she said.

Miller is the first superintendent to live on the property since David Fisher moved out in 1995. Fisher’s successors, Mary Merrill Anderson and Jon Gurban, opted not to use the house. More recently, the building was used as office space for the Minneapolis Parks Foundation.  

To make it livable again, Park Board spokeswoman Dawn Sommers said the board planned to spend about $1,500 on a stove and fridge and make some cosmetic repairs. She said the Park Board and Miller plan to use some of the un-leased rooms for community events.

“Our board and Jayne really like the idea of making it so the public has more access to that main floor for meetings and things,” Sommers said. “How those details work out I don’t think anybody knows at this time.”

Miller said the living and dining rooms and porch could all be used for public activities. She also plans to open a common area in the basement, so children sledding on the hills surrounding the house can take a break, warm up and have some hot chocolate.  

She wants to continue house tours in some form, too. The Minneapolis Park Legacy Society used to organize those, but Joan Berthiaume, co-founder of that organization, said no further tours are planned.

“For a superintendent to live in [the house] is a very good use,” Berthiaume said. “It’s probably and certainly just as good of a use as we were going to do with our programming of the Wirth house and tours, however it’s not compatible with what we’re doing, because [Miller’s] needs for security prevent us from proceeding any longer with this project.”

But the region’s park commissioner, Brad Bourn (District 6), wants to work with the Legacy Society to find a compromise.

“I’m personally still interested in having the legacy society do those tours,” Bourn said. “The model would have to change a little bit. Having the house be a residency was not planned.”

Bourn said he was glad to see the house occupied again.

“I think it’s exciting,” he said. “I think Jayne is definitely interested in doing it and it’s kind of nice to have a superintendent live in the district.”

Formally called the Theodore Wirth Home and Administration Building, the house was built specifically to recruit Wirth to Minneapolis from Connecticut. Once here, Wirth spent two decades growing and modernizing the Minneapolis park system, added more than 3,000 acres of public park space during his tenure.

The tan stucco house, built in colonial revival style, sits in Lyndale Farmstead Park.

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Park Board approves budget and tax levy

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board approved a roughly $60 million budget and a 3.8-percent increase in property tax collections Dec. 13 in City Hall.

The tax bump is a small fraction of the overall tax increase Minneapolis property owners will see next year. Many will receive double-digit hikes, a result of the city’s pension obligations, cuts to state aid, the recertification of Tax Increment Financing districts and commercial property values that are slumping lower than residential values.

The City Council made some last-minute budget revisions to reduce the increase, which required the Park Board to lower its portion of the levy.

The Park Board’s budget is more than 1-percent smaller than last year’s and calls for a two-year pay freeze to improve the organization’s financial condition.