Dickering begins over DeLaSalle field on parkland

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June 6, 2005 // UPDATED 1:55 pm - April 26, 2007
By: Scott Russell
Scott Russell

Controversial plans to expand DeLaSalle High School's athletic field onto Nicollet Island park property have taken a step forward, thanks to a June 1 Park Board vote to negotiate a shared-use agreement with the school.

The deal would decide how the school and the public would share costs - even though the sports facility isstill undefined.

DeLaSalle wants to expand its existing field onto 1.7 acres of publicly owned parkland, according to school documents. The area is defined by East Island Avenue, the railroad tracks, and Nicollet and Grove streets. The plan would close part of Grove Street.

The school appears to have a strong bargaining position. According to a Park Board legal opinion, the 1983 Nicollet Island agreement obliges the Park Board to build DeLaSalle an athletic facility. (The agreement between the Park Board and the Minneapolis Community Development Agency set a vision for the island's redevelopment.)

The field expansion would displace existing Park Board tennis courts and open space. It would allow the school to have football and soccer fields, bleachers seating 750, and practice fields.

The Park Board's Planning Committee voted 3-2 to direct staff to work with DeLaSalle and hold a public hearing July 20.

Commissioners John Erwin and Annie Young voted no. Erwin said it didn't make sense to have staff work on a shared-use agreement until the Park Board talked to the public and decided what it wanted on the property.

Commissioners Walt Dziedzic, Bob Fine and Marie Hauser voted to enter negotiations.

"In order to run a race, you need a starting point," Dziedzic said. "This is a starting point."

The Board took the vote after nearly two hours of public testimony and committee deliberations. Approximately 100 people attended and 14 people spoke, with a slight edge to those favoring the athletic complex.

What each side wants

The Park Board staff presented a proposed 12-point, 30-year reciprocal agreement with DeLaSalle. The proposal requires DeLaSalle to pay all construction and maintenance costs for the new facility, and pay to relocate two tennis courts. The Park Board would lease - not sell - the parkland. DeLaSalle would get priority during the school year.

The proposal would also open DeLaSalle's gymnasium to Park Board youth sports, and allow the Park Board free use of the school's parking lot if it did not conflict with school events. It required DeLaSalle students to give the Park Board 1,000 collective hours of community service annually for events such as youth sports clinics.

The Planning Committee did not vote on the staff proposal.

DeLaSalle submitted a draft written reciprocal-use agreement, though it was not discussed at the meeting. Under the DeLaSalle plan, the Park Board would:

  • Construct bleacher seating for spectators;

  • Relocate, construct or identify tennis courts on park property for use by DeLaSalle;

  • Maintain utilities for park-related activities;

  • Provide lighting for pathways; and

  • Provide fencing and security as needed to protect the property.

Erwin said voting on a shared-use agreement was "putting the cart before the horse. ... We haven't had a discussion about what we want on this site," he said. "We haven't talked to the public."

Dziedzic moved to have further negotiations and have Park Board and DeLaSalle staff return with a proposal for the public hearing.

After the meeting, Don Siggelkow, Park Board general manager for administration and finance, said he hoped to return July 20 with something similar to what the staff already proposed. He said the proposal would not include a site plan, which would come later.

Asked whether the Park Board would pay for such things as bleacher seating, Siggelkow said it would not agree to use public money for the facility. "We won't be able to get back in July for a public hearing if they are asking us to invest in it," he said. "It is not going to happen."

Michael O'Keefe, DeLaSalle's vice president of planning and marketing, said the school had not seen the Park Board's proposal before the June 1 meeting, and the Park Board had not seen DeLaSalle's proposal.

"It is the beginnings of the discussion of reciprocal use," he said. "Where we go from there in terms of how the project unfolds, I think will take place over the next six to eight weeks."

Land swap

A number of issues remain unresolved.

The Park Board used $1.1 million in Metropolitan Parks and Open Space money to buy the land DeLaSalle wants for its field. The land has a restrictive covenant to preserve it as a regional park. The Park Board would have to submit a proposal to the Met Council to release the site for the athletic field, according to an April 14 memo from Met Council President Peter Bell to the Nicollet Island/East Bank Neighborhood Association.

The sports facility may also require state approval since state bonds were used to finance the grants, the memo said. Further, the Park Board would need to provide a land exchange of equally valuable land added to the regional park system, preferably in the same park.

(Nicollet Island has nowhere to add parkland. The Met Council has a special review process to swap land in one regional park for land in another park.)

Siggelkow said the Park Board would seek contingency language with DeLaSalle to void the agreement if it could not get Met Council approvals. It would need a similar contingency if the city of Minneapolis did not approve vacating part of Grove Street.

He was not sure the Park Board needed Met Council approval to convert the land to an athletic complex, Siggelkow said. The Park Board has active sports uses in other regional parks.

It is unclear when the regional park issues will get resolved.

Legal wrangling

People have sharply different views of whether the Park Board has already met its obligation under the 1983 Nicollet Island agreement.

The Park Board released a March 29 analysis by Michael Norton, a former city attorney it hired to review the 22-year-old deal. Norton wrote that the agreement "requires" the Park Board to build DeLaSalle an athletic field - if certain conditions are met. Those include a reciprocal-use agreement.

Norton added that there are, "a number of unresolved legal issues." The Nicollet Island agreement, which defines the island's future development, is between the Park Board and the Minneapolis Community Development Agency. DeLaSalle is not a party to the agreement, Norton said. The contract is also subject to amendment.

The 1983 language said, "the Park Board should use its best efforts to construct upon property adjacent to DeLaSalle property an outdoor neighborhood recreational and athletic facility."

Project opponents, including Island resident and State Rep. Phyllis Kahn, said the 1983 agreement specified DeLaSalle should get a regulation football field and at least two tennis courts - and it already had those.

Sigglekow said he didn't believe the Park Board had fulfilled the agreement. The football field is on DeLaSalle property, not on adjacent park property as the contract states.

Votes needed

Park Commissioner Vivian Mason said the long-term lease is equivalent to a land sale and ultimately should require a super-majority - six of nine Commissioners - for final approval.

Commissioner Bob Fine said he believed the Park Board already committed to the long-term deal in 1983 and the DeLaSalle deal should only require a five-vote simple majority.

The Park Board would seek a legal opinion, he said.