Eight percent city parks cuts elicit public yawns If public outrage is a measure that government cuts threaten vital city services, then the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board staff must have done well crafting millions of dollars in reductions to its 2004 budget.
Only eight people showed up to speak at a recent public hearing on the Park Board
Three of the eight people who testified spoke in support of the gardener position at the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden -- a position not threatened in the current budget plan.
The Park Board's 2004 budget is $4 million below 2003 spending, due to reduced state aid and increased costs, according to Park Board figures. In 2003 dollars, it represents an 8 percent cut. That doesn't count a $1.2 million city cut in parkway maintenance.
The current budget-balancing plan would trim the equivalent of 35 full-time staff. Eliminating seven-day-a-week programming at various recreation centers would save $1 million. Cuts to administrative and planning staff would save $640,000. Cutting supervisors in forestry, recreation, environmental operations and maintenance would save $488,000.
Two people raised concerns about a plan to replace 15 full-time parkkeeper jobs with various part-time seasonal workers, including a shift of warming house supervision to lower-paid staff. The change would save $520,000 in salaries and benefits.
Parkkeeper Keith Olson said the Park Board should look for other ways to cut, such as reduced newsletter mailing costs. He also questioned the wisdom of buying 61 new rental canoes for Lake Calhoun this year -- canoes, he said, sat idle.
(Don Siggelkow, assistant superintendent for finance, said Calhoun had waiting lines for canoe rentals this year, and he did not know what Olson was talking about but would follow up.)
Mary Barrick, special projects coordinator, spoke against the elimination of her position, saying it brought in significant outside money.
The proposed budget also would cut $100,000 in park police overtime and $90,000 for operations staff overtime, which primarily affects milfoil harvesting.
Two more public hearings are scheduled on consecutive Wednesdays, Nov. 5 and Nov. 12, 6:30 p.m. at the Park Board's headquarters, 2117 W. River Road N. The Board will adopt a tentative budget Nov. 5 and adopt the final budget Dec. 16.
For more information, call Emily Ero-Phillips at 230-6468. -- Scott Russell
City School Choice fair is Nov. 1 Finding the right school for your child can be a daunting task. Attending the annual Minneapolis Public School's information fair can make it easier.
Every public school in the city, along with charter and alternative schools, will be represented at the Saturday, Nov. 1 event at Downtown's Hyatt Regency, 1300 Nicollet Mall. Teachers and principals will be on hand from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. to pitch their programs and answer questions from parents.
School request cards for K-8 are due in the central placement office Jan. 15. High school applications are due Dec. 19. For more information, call 668-0230. -- Bob Gilbert
Whitney condo conversion wins appeals The owners of the Whitney Hotel, 150 Portland Ave. S., scored a double victory, getting the go-ahead from the City Council to convert their 96-room hotel to a 35-unit condo and to expand the windows facing the river for better views.
The project still must resolve a shortfall of parking spaces.
On Sept. 8, the Minneapolis Planning Commission approved the condo conversion of the Standard Mill Building (the Whitney's original name) but tacked on a condition -- the owners could not expand the windows. The decision triggered two appeals to the City Council.
The owners argued that they needed to expand the windows to market the condos, and even the Heritage Preservation Commission (HPC) had approved the design, they said.
Canal Street Limited Partnership, the owners of the neighboring Crown Roller Mill, 105 S. 5th Ave., and BHP Company LLC, owner of the adjacent Crown Plaza building, also appealed, questioning whether the Whitney conversion had adequate parking. The two neighbors also opposed any faade changes.
The City Council's Zoning and Planning Committee sided with the Whitney owners on the window issue.
Councilmember Lisa Goodman (7th Ward) supported the condo plans. "This is a less intense use," she said of the hotel-to-condo conversion. "We are striving hard to make this a more residential area."
Peter Beck, an attorney for Canal Street Limited Partnership and BHP, said allowing the hotel to alter the windows would affect the architectural and historical integrity of nearby buildings and lower Crown Roller Mill's property values.
Victoria Granacky, a Whitney owner, said several efforts to run the property as a hotel had failed. The Whitney closed Sept. 7. The condominium conversion was the best opportunity to make the property economically viable and save the historic building -- but units would not sell without better windows.
Charlene Roise, an historical consultant, said the building's windows had changed several times over the years, and the current windows were not original.
The condo project still needs a parking variance, City Planner Jim Voll said. The hotel had leased off-site parking, but city rules don't allow off-site leased spaces for residential property.
Condo proponents said the residential units would generate less traffic than the hotel did and said they would apply for the variance.
The full City Council voted 13-0 on the Whitney's appeals Oct. 24, allowing the owners to proceed with their plans. -- Scott Russell
Saturday The League of Women Voters of Minneapolis will host a Downtown panel discussion on the USA PATRIOT Act on Saturday, Nov. 1, exploring the positive and negative ramifications of the federal law.
The panel is expected to include U.S. Attorney Thomas Heffelfinger; Jane Kirtley, the Silha professor of media ethics and law at the University of Minnesota; Attorney William Michael, Jr.; and Charles Samuelson, executive director of the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union.
The discussion comes on the heels of an appearance in Minneapolis by Attorney General John Ashcroft in September. During his speech, Ashcroft defended the USA PATRIOT Act (which stands for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism), saying it protects "the lives and liberties of Americans."
Critics, meanwhile, have argued it gives the federal government sweeping powers that potentially violate constitutional rights.
Congress passed the USA PATRIOT Act in October 2001 in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. It sailed through the House and Senate without hearings. It sunsets in 2005, but there is talk of removing the expiration date.
In addition to the League of Women Voters of Minneapolis, the discussion is co-sponsored by the Woman's Club of Minneapolis, the Minneapolis Civil Rights Commission and The Rake.
The discussion will take place 9:30 to 11 a.m. at the Woman's Club of Minneapolis, 410 Oak Grove St. -- Sarah McKenzie