Minneapolis parks leaders are scheduled to meet this week with officials from Graco Minnesota Inc. to try to resolve a dispute over a piece of land critical for a new trail.
Graco is insisting on buying part of a nearby park property before it grants an easement for a trail that has been scheduled for construction later this year.
The company faces a significant legal and political challenge in its bid to buy two acres of parkland on the north side of the Plymouth Avenue Bridge in northeast Minneapolis. The Park Board spent $7.7 million for the 11-acre site in 2010 and plans to recreate a park and wildlife island.
"I don't sell parkland," said Park Board President Liz Wielinski, the area's commissioner.
In order to sell the taxpayer-owned land, six of the nine commissioners must vote for a land sale, and a district judge's approval is also required.
The company wants to build corporate offices on a portion of the land, which park officials bought from Scherer lumber.
Graco spokesman Bryce Hallowell said the company wants a strip of Scherer property to buffer the park from its factory and loading dock area. Hallowell said Graco is concerned that its operations could clash with park users if there is no buffer strip.
"Let's all work to make this the best park," Hallowell said. He said that Graco still sees the Park Board selling part of the Scherer property as a condition for granting an easement.
Third Ward City Council Member Jacob Frey does not favor selling the land in exchange for the easement. "I think that's silly. Nobody's pushing Graco out of there," he said. "They've been good neighbors. They made an agreement and they need to live up to it."
Graco agreed to grant the trail easement in a 2000 redevelopment agreement with the city that allowed Graco to devote some of the taxes generated by its expansion to financing site improvements. Graco argues that commitment ended in 2009 when the city certified that Graco had completed "all building construction and other physical improvements" in the redevelopment agreement. The easement is listed as a public improvement in the agreement.
A city permit requires the easement, as well.
Graco officials met recently with city development agency representatives, but not the Park Board. The development agency did not say whether progress was made at that meeting.
"The dialogue was welcome and constructive as we try to work toward an approach that is holistic on riverfront development," Graco's Hallowell said.
The Park Board already has voted to condemn Graco land for the easement if it doesn't get that permission through negotiations. "I'm confident we can work something out, but that doesn't mean we don't have some serious tools in our shed," Frey said.
But park officials also need to weigh the legal cost of doing so, as well as the easement price that could be awarded by a court.
Park commissioner John Erwin said he doesn't think that Minneapolis taxpayers should have to bear those costs.