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November 17, 2003 // UPDATED 11:07 am - April 30, 2007
By: Skyway News editorial staff
Skyway News editorial staff

Parks seek plans for marina, wireless Internet and tour boats By Scott Russell

A marina. Excursion boats and charter boats. Wireless Internet access.

It may sound like a checklist for a CEO's working vacation, but it's the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board's list of business partnerships to pursue.

The Park Board approved a Request for Proposals (RFP) Nov. 5, seeking a partner to build and run a new marina outside its riverfront headquarters, 2117 W. River Rd. N. A Park Board committee OKed two other RFPs: one to create a citywide wireless Internet connection through a series of antennae on park property, the other to either renew the Park Board's longstanding deal with Paddleford Packet Boat Co. or find a new partner.

Marina The Park Board is seeking marina proposals "to meet the needs of the boating community and expand the recreational uses of the Upper River area."

Boat magnate and financier Irwin Jacobs already has his oar in the water, telling the Park Board he would build a marina at no cost, and the Board would share the profits. He and others have until Dec. 8 to submit formal proposals.

The Park Board wants the marina located on the river's west bank just north of Downtown, somewhere between the Plymouth Avenue Bridge and 26th Avenue North/Burlington Northern Railroad Bridge, the RFP said.

Proposals will have to address many site issues and recreational wants -- public access, interpretive features, picnic areas, bike and pedestrian trail nodes, safety and security, and support facilities, to name a few. They also have to include development and financing plans, schematic designs and a construction timetable.

The Board approved the RFP on a 6-1 vote with Commissioner Vivian Mason voting no. Commissioner Rochelle Berry Graves strongly opposed a marina in committee but left prior to the full Board vote. Commissioner John Erwin was absent.

Commissioner Annie Young appeared undecided, but voted in favor when the Board approved amendments to extend the application deadline (it was Nov. 24 in the draft) and add some "green" criteria to the evaluation, such as the marina's impact on water quality.

Mason said the Board was moving too fast.

"It is a huge mistake to move forward on this," she said. "We are losing the vision and mission of what our job is."

Berry Graves called it "offensive" to move ahead with an RFP before the Board had significant public discussion on the issue.

Commissioner Walt Dziedzic said critics were jumping the gun. The RFP was an effort to find out who else besides Jacobs might be interested, he said.

President Bob Fine said the Board was not approving the marina, but opening up the discussion.

"It lines up with the idea we should be providing recreational opportunities on the river," he said. "We have been ignoring the river for 120 years."

Wireless Internet access The wireless Internet plan is all about money.

"The most qualified proposal that provides the most income to the Board will be selected to negotiate a contractual agreement," the draft RFP said.

The Board's Administration and Finance Committee approved the draft RFP on a voice vote. The full Board still has to approve it.

The proposal deadline is tentatively Jan. 16. The Park Board would hear presentations in late February, vote April 21 and execute a contract by May 28, the RFP said.

Proposals would include information on the Park Board's commission, as well as the company's estimated annual sales, capital investment and/or indication of a long-term commitment.

The Board would allow the company to install "routers" on park property. Routers allow owners of specially equipped computers to connect to the Internet, similar to cell phone hookups. The Internet service provider has to provide access citywide; but residents and businesses would pay to use the service, similar to cable TV.

Excursion/charter boats The Paddleford Riverboat cruises the Mississippi River from June to August, with launch sites at Boom Island in Minneapolis and Harriet Island in St. Paul.

Don Siggelkow, assistant superintendent of administration and finance, said the Paddleford's Park Board contract to use Boom Island expires at year's end.

The Paddleford has had the contract for 15 years, and the Park Board should see what other vendors might offer, he said.

The Board's Administration and Finance Committee approved the draft RFP on a voice vote. The full Board still has to approve it.

The tentative deadline shows the RFP will be issued Friday, Nov. 21 with a Dec. 19 application deadline.

The RFP said the Board also would consider proposals for a smaller charter boat operation from "Bohemian Flats," the area along the river's west bank under the Washington Avenue Bridge at the University of Minnesota.

The Park Board does not currently have a charter boat contract. It would be a new service.

As snow flies, so do city shoveling fines With winter soon upon us, this reminder: the city wrote 89 tickets to snow shoveling scofflaws last year -- $65 each.

Public Works also sent crews to clear public sidewalks, charging property owners anywhere from $50 to $350 each, depending on how long the job took. For those who didn't pay, the city simply added the charge to their 2004 property tax bill.

City ordinance requires commercial property owners to clear their sidewalks of snow and ice "within the first four hours of daytime after the ceasing to fall of any snow."

Owners of one- or two-family dwelling units get a little slack; they have to clear public walkways within 24 hours of snowfall's end.

Seniors or people with physical limitations have options for help. Ruth Kildow, the city's senior ombudsman, has a list of "handiworks organizations" that provide shoveling assistance, charging a sliding-scale fee, she said.

"If they are going to have problems clearing their snow, they should give me a call, and I can refer them to one of those organizations," Kildow said. "It is good to make an arrangement before the snow flies."

Kildow's number is 673-3004.

Dan Bauer of Public Works said his department could get up to 5,000 complaints in a heavy snow year. Last year, a light snow year, had relatively few.

Bauer provided the following breakdown of snowy sidewalk complaints from December 2002 to April 2003:

  • Public Works received 589 complaints. Inspectors arrived the same day or the next day.

  • Owners of 175 properties had cleared the sidewalks by the time inspectors arrived. Public Works mailed 414 warning letters to the rest.

  • Five working days after mailing the warning letter, Public Works reinspected the sidewalks. Of the 414 outstanding complaints, 292 had shoveled. Inspectors wrote 122 removal orders, and gave property owners one final warning.

  • Inspectors wrote 89 tickets; 33 property owners didn't get a ticket. Inspectors have to write a ticket to a person, Bauer said. If the property owner information on file only has a business name, not an individual, they can't write a ticket.

  • By the time cleaning crews arrived, 51 property owners had finally shoveled. Crews cleared the remaining 71, and the city billed the property owner based on time and materials. (One bill indicated crews needed 100 pounds of salt to clear a 49-foot stretch of sidewalk.)

    Frequent snowfalls can hinder the cleanup process. The city could have an address on the to-shovel list, but a fresh snowfall triggers another 24-hour waiting period under city code.

    City Councilmember Gary Schiff (9th Ward) noticed that several people receiving snow-clearing assessments had names reflecting they may be immigrants. He passed a directive in the Public Works and Transportation Committee, asking city staff to translate the warning letters into multiple languages.

    If you have a complaint about an unshoveled sidewalk this winter, call Public Works at 673-2420. -- Scott Russell

    A parkland ode to buckthorn? They are 10 feet tall, made of buckthorn, look like dandelions, and may be coming to a park near you.

    Artist Jim Proctor got the nod from a key Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board committee to work with staff to find a park site for his buckthorn sculptures, subject to neighborhood association approval.

    Buckthorn is an invasive species. The Park Board has worked to eliminate it from park property, where it crowds out native species. The Board has also encouraged private landowners to cut down buckthorn.

    Proctor, a Powderhorn Park resident and Downtown library aide, has asked the Park Board to find a buckthorn-infested site, including mature trees. He would work with volunteers to clear a half-acre area, leaving a dozen mature buckthorn tree trunks standing, roughly 10 feet tall, according to Park Board materials.

    Proctor and volunteers would insert buckthorn sprouts into holes drilled into a ball on top of the trunks, creating a field of giant dandelions, (or as one Park Board staffer put it, the sculptures look like "miniature Berger Fountains," referring to the Loring Park landmark).

    Proctor wrote the Park Board that sculpting the dead buckthorn as giant, coarse dandelions -- another alien invader, but more familiar than buckthorn -- "we are communicating the nature of the problem and what we have done to solve it."

    He is applying for a $4,000 grant from St. Paul-based FORECAST Public Art and needed the property owner's permission before submitting it.-- Scott Russell

    The city's $200,000 pothole The city of Minneapolis has agreed to pay $200,000 to a woman who suffered spinal injuries when her bus hit a Downtown pothole, launching her out of her seat and into the ceiling.

    The City Council voted 12-0 Nov. 7 to support the settlement.

    Mary DeWitt sustained permanent injuries to her thoracic and lumbar spine due to the bus/pothole incident, said an Oct. 22 memo from Assistant City Attorney James Moore to Councilmembers.

    The incident happened around 8 a.m. June 2, 1999, when DeWitt's bus was traveling along 2nd Avenue South near 6th Street South, the memo said. She had surgery to insert spine-stabilizing hardware. She continued to have problems, and doctors later performed spinal fusion surgery. She continues to wear a body brace and has lifting restrictions.

    Metro Transit had notified the city of the pothole problem at 5 p.m. the day before the incident, the memo said. A city employee testified he placed a warning flasher at the hazardous pothole, but at the time of the incident, witnesses reported no flasher. City crews repaired the hole June 3, the day after the incident.

    The city's liability is capped at $300,000. -- Scott Russell

    City Council actions 11/7/03 meeting. Absent: Robert Lilligren (8th Ward)

    Red Restaurant: Council voted 11-0 to grant Red Restaurant, 821 Marquette Ave., an on-sale liquor license with Sunday sales, sidewalk caf license and all-night special food license. Scott Benson (11th Ward) abstained.

    Xcel suit: Council voted 12-0 to file a Friend of the Court brief on Xcel Energy's lawsuit against the Metropolitan Council and the Minnesota Department of Transportation. Xcel is suing to recover costs for relocating underground transmission lines needed for Light Rail Transit work, saying the project is a taking of its property rights.

    Council rules: Council voted 10-2 to require all substantive motions, amendments or resolutions be in writing for City Council meetings. Paul Zerby (2nd Ward) and Natalie Johnson Lee (5th Ward) voted no.

    Downtown traffic: Council voted 12-0 to name Sandy Colvin Roy (12th Ward) to replace Gary Schiff (9th Ward) as the Council's representative on the Downtown Transportation Management Organization.

    Settlement: Council voted 12-0 to pay $200,000 to a woman who suffered a spinal injury when the bus she was riding Downtown struck a pothole, propelling her out of her seat and into the ceiling.

    Grants: Council voted 12-0 to accept two grants: a five-year, $1.3 million grant for reproductive health for young men; and a two-year, $167,271 grant to decrease crime against homeless gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered youth. -- Scott Russell