City Council update: Park Board, Walker planning changes to conservatory

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February 13, 2012
By: Nick Halter
Nick Halter

The Minneapolis Sculpture Garden is wildly popular, most can agree. But it’s also quite expensive to operate.

In 2011, the garden and Cowles Conservatory combined to bring in $33,000 in revenue generated primarily through event fees. But the Park Board and the Walker Art Museum spent $246,000 to operate the garden and conservatory, losing about $211,000 while providing photo ops for people from near and far.

One of the biggest expenses, according to Park Board Assistant Superintendent of Planning Services Bruce Chamberlain, is the big, glass conservatory, where an outdated heating system has to pump in hot air in order to keep plants alive in the winter. Over the past two years combined, Cowles utility bills have cost nearly $100,000.

The Park Board has requested $8.5 million in state bonding for a larger renovation plan for the Sculpture Garden, and part of that money would go to a new heating and air conditioning system at Cowles.

That might not be the only change at Cowles. As part of the Park Board’s overall plan to renovate the Sculpture Garden, the Park Board is looking at new uses for the structure and Chamberlain said that will likely mean the end of its use as a green house.

“It’s going to be different than it is today,” Chamberlain said. “The building itself probably won’t change. But the way it’s used is probably going to change.”

Chamberlain said the Park Board and the Walker are working closely on a new plan for the building. Details aren’t worked out yet, but Chamberlain said the space would be reconfigured to be better used for events and programs.

If lawmakers approve of the bonding request, the Park Board says the project would begin in August and take about 13 months.


Crown Hydro tries for new site


After 13 year spent wrangling with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board to get approval to build a hydroelectric facility below parkland near the Minneapolis Mill District, Crown Hydro is now working on a plan to build below U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land just downstream.

Crown Hydro in October met with the Corps of Engineers to discuss a proposal that would allow the company to build intake valves near the St. Anthony Falls lock wall, according to documents filed to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Jan. 20. Crown says the proposal would not require the approval of the Park Board, which has fought tooth and nail against the project.

Crown Hydro sent the documents to FERC in order to convince the commission that the project is still making progress. FERC has threatened to revoke Crown Hydro’s license if the project doesn’t show it is moving forward. FERC granted Crown Hydro a license in 1999.

Crown Hydro wants to build a 3.2-megawatt hydroelectric facility on the west bank of the Mississippi River, just above St. Anthony Falls. The private company had been trying to get authorization from the Park Board to construct the underground facility, but negotiations fell apart in May.

Park Board Attorney Brian Rice said staff would “roll up our sleeves” and study the new proposal to find out whether or not Crown Hydro would need some type of permission from the Park Board.

“I would have a hard time believing that they’re not going to need some approval from the Park Board for this project, in knowing what I know about the area and the properties’ interest that we acquired down there,” Rice said.

The Army Corps of Engineers has not agreed to the project, but it has provided some feedback to Crown Hydro for a potential deal.

The Army Corps of Engineers, in written comments to Crown, expressed concerns over the stability of a 55-year-old gravity wall where Crown’s new proposal would be located.

The Corps also raised concerns about the availability of water flows at St. Anthony to keep Crown Hydro turbines running.

Reach Nick Halter at nhalter@mnpubs.com.