Powderhorn Park won’t have fireworks at its July 4th celebration this year, ending for now a key feature of one of the oldest community events in Minnesota.
Its Neighborhood Association voted to suspend the fireworks because Minneapolis Park Police had said it couldn’t adequately patrol both the Powderhorn event and the much larger Red, White and Boom! show along the downtown riverfront.
About 20,000 people attended last year’s Powderhorn Park event, which was marred by fights and a food truck robbery. Fireworks were stopped several times when spectators broke through safety fences. The downtown fireworks attracted about 100,000 people, but fewer 911 calls, said Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board police Chief Jason Ohotto.
The park board had offered to reschedule the riverfront event this year, moving it to July 5 (a Saturday), and allow Powderhorn to have fireworks on July 4th by itself. But Vienna Rothberg, chairwoman of the Powderhorn neighborhood group’s board, said being the only option in town on July 4th might have presented even bigger and more expensive problems for the park and the neighborhood.
Powderhorn will instead have a daytime-only event this coming July 4th, featuring food and entertainment. The board voted down an option to schedule a celebration and evening fireworks on July 5.
In line with the mission?
The decision-making process, which followed several months of community meetings and a survey, was "transparent and incredibly arduous," said Christina Nicholson, treasurer for the neighborhood group’s board. Some residents felt strongly about keeping the fireworks tradition alive, while others raised concerns about safety both at the event and throughout the neighborhood.
The daylong celebration followed by fireworks may also have simply gotten too big, Rothberg said. Fundraising to cover costs had become a difficult distraction from the neighborhood group’s basic community work, including economic development and arts and diversity initiatives.
"Every dollar we spend on blowing things up is a dollar we’re not spending knocking on doors or helping somebody fill in a grant application," she said.
The fireworks themselves cost $5,000 last year. Becky Timm, the Powderhorn Park group’s executive director, said it was also getting difficult to find fireworks producers to stage an event in Powderhorn, since they could make more money at bigger venues elsewhere.
Powderhorn Park, slightly more than 3 miles due south of downtown Minneapolis, is the city’s largest neighborhood park, covering about 14 city blocks and featuring a lake. Its board said it could bring fireworks back in future years, but will look at a range of activities to offer.
"This first year it's going to be small and bumpy and weird," Nicholson said. "But going forward it could be something exceptionally cool."
Ohotto said he was glad the neighborhood took the safety concerns seriously and came up with an alternative.
"We’ll do everything possible to make it successful," he said.
Easily surviving questions about a controversial legal opinion on the city's support of a new Vikings stadium, Minneapolis attorney Susan Segal was approved for a fourth term as city attorney by a City Council committee Monday afternoon.
The 5-1 Ways and Means Committee vote forwards Segal's reappointment to the full City Council on Friday.
Two council members on Monday questioned her controversial 2012 opinion that paved the way for approval of the Vikings stadium. The legal opinion claimed that raising $150 million through a sales tax did not conflict with a provision in the city charter requiring a voter referendum on stadium financing over $10 million. Segal maintained that the money was controlled by the state, not the city.
A referendum was never held, and the City Council ultimately voted in favor of the $1 billion stadium, which is now being built on the eastern edge of downtown Minneapolis.
Speaking Monday, City Council member Blong Yang, an attorney, said he was "perplexed" by Segal's opinion because it created a new definition for city resources when one was already available in the charter itself. Segal's definition of city resources was a key part of her opinion. "...It concerned me that the decision wasn't really grounded in law all that well," said Yang, who was the committee's lone vote against Segal.
Council member Andrew Johnson came to the meeting with a long list of questions for Segal. Segal, who attended the hearing but was not required to be there, answered several questions before committee chair John Quincy cut Johnson off. Quincy said it wasn't appropriate to cross examine Segal, saying in an interview later that Johnson should have asked his questions before the meeting.
Johnson said he supports Segal broadly but still disagrees with the stadium opinion.
Several others spoke in favor of Segal's reappointment, including former City Council member Don Samuels, current member Elizabeth Glidden, and Mayor Betsy Hodges. Refering to the stadium decision, Hodges said she didn't like the opinion when it was given, but still trusts Segal.
Several people spoke against Segal's reappointment over the issue of police brutality, saying that the city has not adequately prosecuted police officers accused of misconduct under her watch.
Ridership on Metro Transit buses and trains was up last year, but the on-time rate was down.
In a report released Monday, the agency also said fewer college students used student transit passes last year, including a big drop in UPass use at the University of Minnesota.
Seven fewer colleges and more than a thousand fewer students used the Metro Transit College Pass in 2013 than in 2012, and the number of UPass users dropped 35 percent.
Across the board, buses and trains were on time less often. While buses, light rail and North Star trains all hovered around 90 percent on-time performance in both years, all saw a drop in 2013.
Still, the transit system, which covers more than 900 square miles in the metro area, gave nearly 400,000 more rides in 2013 than in 2012. The split between bus and rail ridership stayed about the same, with the vast majority of transit users taking buses.
The system’s fleet has also increased. According to the report, additions included:
Metro Transit also employed more people, including nearly 40 percent more light rail operators in 2013 than in 2012. That’s a big bump, considering only 3 percent more bus drivers were employed during that time. The other major increase came in security – nearly 50 percent more full- and part-time transit police officers were hired in 2013.
Talks to reopen Nicollet Avenue at Lake Street appear to be progressing, as the city Friday commenced a process that will eventually give them authority to purchase the land.
Kmart’s obstruction of Nicollet Avenue has long been considered one of the worst urban planning blunders in modern Minneapolis history. Opening the street has been a top priority for incoming city council member Lisa Bender.
On Friday, the city released a redevelopment plan for the area. Bender said that if this passes -- a council vote is expected in April -- it will give the city authority purchase property in the area.
City officials have been locked in negotiations for years to convince a multitude of owners and lessees on the site to cooperate with the plan.
“This is an optimistic step,” Bender said. “It means that we’re still in active negotiations with the private property owners…It’s evidence that those negotiations are moving forward and that we are getting ready to hopefully take partial control of the site in the near future.”
In a staff report, city staff said goals for the area include reconnecting Nicollet Avenue, improving access to Interstate 35W, promoting new transit options along Nicollet Avenue and Lake Street, as well as eliminating blight. Future land uses could include mixed-use buildings and high-density residential buildings.
UPDATE: Howard Riefs, director of communications for Sears Holdings, which owns Kmart, sent this statement: "While Kmart has been and continues to be committed to an open and fair dialogue with the City on this matter, we did not receive notification of the proposed redevelopment plan until today when it was released to the public. We will review the proposal and provide further comment in due course."
The Nicollet-Lake closure was controversial from its beginnings in the mid-1970s, based on Star Tribune clippings. A redevelopment plan was initially approved in 1972 to improve the troubled area and millions of dollars in bonds were sold to acquire and clear land. Then the city desperately needed a tenant.
In 1976, Kmart demanded that Nicollet be closed in order to build their store, a proposition that “generated intense neighborhood opposition,” according to one news article. “The people in my neighborhood don’t want Nicollet Ave. closed, and we don’t want K-Mart if that’s what it involves,” a service station owner named Carl Brown said at a community meeting.
The article about that community meeting summed up the pressure on the council: “Aldermen Earl Netwal and Tom Ogdahl admitted that the city is in a bind over the development. The land was cleared years ago, the city is losing taxable property, business have shown little interest in building there and the one large firm that is interested – Kmart – won’t build unless Nicollet Ave. is closed off.”
One letter writer proposed even proposed building an archway through the Kmart structure to connect the street (right).
The City Council’s community development committee ultimately deadlocked in a 2-2 vote. The full council then approved the plan 10-2. “I have 34,000 people in my ward who won’t have to drive to the suburbs,” said Alderman Keith Ford, who was "very pleased" with the outcome.
Soon after, Mayor Charlie Stenvig “refused to sign but did not veto” the council resolution because he was not completely behind it, according to another artcle. By doing so, he allowed the Kmart and SuperValu grocery store to move forward. The delay in locating an anchor tenant had "cost the city about $4.8 million more than was originally anticipated," the article said.
The new redevelopment plan for Lake Street and Nicollet Avenue will be heard at a planning commission committee of the whole meeting next Thursday.
Top photo: Lake Street and 1st Avenue, 1972 and today. Middle photo: "Nicollet block closed to allow store construction," July 1977. Bottom-right: Henry Henriksen letter to the editor, May 1976.
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