A Hennepin County district judge Wednesday ruled that the city of Minneapolis doesn't have the authority to operate a park, known as the Commons, that sits next to U.S. Bank Stadium.
The ruling is a win for former Minneapolis City Council Member Paul Ostrow and former council candidate John Hayden, who alleged in a lawsuit that the city violated its charter in a complicated agreement that subsidized the Commons park and a nearby parking ramp in downtown Minneapolis using $65 million in bonds.
The Commons is owned by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, but it is leased to and operated by the city, a function that Hennepin District Judge Bruce Peterson said is reserved for the Park Board.
Peterson's ruling, which bars the use of city funds for the operation of the Commons, is the latest twist in a legal battle waged by Ostrow and Hayden over the 2013 agreement that created the Commons, which opened in July 2016 and covers 4.2 acres adjacent to U.S. Bank Stadium.
Their lawsuit alleged that the agreement gave the Vikings free use of the Commons park.
"This needs to go to the Park Board, where it all should have been," Ostrow said in an interview Thursday. "There needs to be public hearings on this park, on what people want this to look like and how this truly can be what it is supposed to be, actually a park whose primary mission is serving the public and not the Vikings."
The judge wrote that the city's charter bars the City Council from doing what the Park Board was intended to do — "govern, administer, and maintain" the parks. But since the city of Minneapolis has contracted to "operate and manage" or "operate and maintain" the Commons, Peterson wrote in his ruling, it did not "provide any explanation for this stark inconsistency."
And if the City Council takes up functions reserved for boards, commissions and committees, it might be viewed as intruding on the responsibilities of those entities, he wrote.
"The Civil Service Commission, the Civil Rights Commission, and the Board of Estimate and Taxation have the same protected status under the Charter in this respect that the MPRB does," Peterson wrote. "One can easily imagine the confusion that might ensue if the City Council started establishing civil service rules, reviewing civil rights complaints, or conducting tax assessments."
Minneapolis City Attorney Susan Segal said the judge should have dismissed the lawsuit in its entirety.
"With all due respect for the bench, the court erred in its interpretation of a few words in the Charter, while ignoring others," Segal said in a statement Thursday.
"There has been a 125-year history of cooperative agreements between the City Council and the Park Board, including not only the agreement over operations of The Commons but the recently enacted joint 20-year neighborhood parks plan and agreements for maintenance of boulevard trees and the parkways, to name just a few."
Segal said she is confident the city and the Park Board will ultimately prevail in court.