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Third-party group could control downtown east 'Yard'

Posted by: Eric Roper Updated: May 19, 2014 - 3:50 PM

Updated at 3:50 p.m.

By Ale Matos and Eric Roper

City and Park Board officials in Minneapolis are considering giving control of the proposed "Yard" in downtown east to a third-party entity.

Council Member Jacob Frey said the two entities met Friday to discuss who will take control of operations and maintenance of the park, which will adjoin Wells Fargo’s new corporate campus near the Vikings stadium.

Although an agreement has not yet been signed, Frey said the city and Park Board are coming to a consensus that giving control to an outside entity, like a non-profit or conservancy, is the best option. Frey said The Yard project is too big for the city or the Park Board to handle on its own.

“Sometimes the best decision as a public servant is recognizing that a public servant can’t do it alone,” Frey said. “I’m advocating for the conservancy.”

The third-party group would consist of city, park board and community representatives. Frey said there may be representatives from other groups as well, such as the Vikings or Ryan Companies.

“I think at this point it’s premature to say there’s any kind of consensus developing,” said council president Barb Johnson, who supports having an outside entity manage the Yard. A final decision will likely need to be approved by the council and the Park Board, she added.

Johnson observed that downtown parks are “a different kind of animal” that rely on a different model than typical parks to be successful.

“Because they’re very expensive to maintain and you are able to produce revenue off of them by having events,” Johnson said. “But somebody’s got to take care of that booking, promoting active use, all that sort of thing, and that isn’t necessarily the expertise of people in government.”

Park Board Superintendant Jayne Miller said she disagreed with the notion that a concensus is forming.

"We are at the very early stages of discussion about what’s possible," said Miller, who declined to discuss the talks further. "To characterize where we are in the same vein as council member Frey, I would not do that

Frey said the agreement could come in the next few weeks because the park is on a “tight timeline.“It’s important that we have an end decision so that we have an entity that is able to fundraise,” Frey said.

One idea that the group discussed was giving the ownership of The Yard to the Park Board, Frey said, which would then lease all operation and maintenance to the conservancy.

Once the conservancy is formed, its first task will be fundraising.

“We know that people, private donors, are not enthralled with the idea of donating to government," Johnson said. "And so to have an outside entity that would be fundraising, we think is a more attractive option.”

The park is made possible by about $18 million in city bonding dollars, much of which was allocated for site acquisition and demolition of the Star Tribune building. About $1.1 million was projected to be left over for a basic park, and the Vikings agreed to pay another $1 million for improvements.

The bonds, which are also helping fund a nearby parking ramp, are expected to be repaid using parking revenues.

In January, members of the Park Board grumbled about the prospect of taking over the Yard. Park Board President Liz Wielinski said at the time it could cost $300,000 a year just to mow, shovel and light a basic park -- not accounting for any additional amenities.

“It’s the gift that keeps on taking,” Wielinski said at the time.

Arlene Fried, co-founder of Park Watch, said the process should be subject to hearings and more public scrutiny. She questioned Frey’s assertion that there was a tight timeline.

“I don’t understand why we’re on a tight deadline,” Fried said. “This is a big deal. Huge. Huge. I think you need to take time to get it right.”

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