What’s making news in Minneapolis, reported by the Star Tribune’s team of city reporters. Send news tips to baird.helgeson@startribune.com.

Posts about Parks and recreation

Rinks will open when Ma Nature says so

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: December 19, 2014 - 5:38 PM

You can’t hurry Mother Nature, so Minneapolis park officials are prepping ice skaters that rinks likely won’t be open by their scheduled start date on Monday, the first day of the school holiday recess.

But Edina's Centennial Lakes Park has been open for skating for much of December.
According to the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, its crews need 10 consecutive days when the temperature stays at 20 degrees or colder in order to flood and open rinks.

But according to long-term weather averages for Minneapolis, there’s no stretch during the winter when that happens. The coldest stretch is from Jan. 11-17, when the daily high averages 21 degrees. The average is no higher than 22 degrees from Dec. 31 to Jan. 25.

Of course, weather varies from averages. Rinks opened on Dec. 21 last year. (Photo: That's Cece Magill trying lsles on opening day) . But recent temps have remained below the Park Board’s ice-making threshold only once in the last 10 days, and they’re not forecast to stay below that level in the next week.

The Park Board operates 47 rinks for skating, broomball, and hockey at 23 parks.  It said it hopes to have some open by the end of the month. The status of each rink can be viewed online. That shows no rinks open but you can sign up for e-mailed updates.

Can’t wait?  Try Lake of the Isles if you’re hardy enough.  The warming house isn’t open -- and neither is the rink officially -- but the ice has been thick to hold ice-flooding equipment and hockey boards have been installed.  It's shallow, like Centennial Lakes, so it freezes faster.

Don’t tell ‘em we sent you.

MPRB OKs downtown park deal despite pleas

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: December 17, 2014 - 9:09 PM

Minneapolis park commissioners voted Wednesday to assume the role of absentee landlord for a planned downtown park to be built near the Vikings stadium, despite efforts by a flock of speakers to tie bird-safe glass to the issue.

The 7-2 vote means that the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board will take ownership -- in name only -- of the planned park of less than two city blocks. The proposal needed a super majority of six votes because it involves buying the land -- for a token $1 -- as well as leasing it back to the city for between 30 and 50 years. The City Council approved it last week.

The vote followed pleas from 21 speakers that the agreement be conditioned on installing bird-safe glass in the $1 billion stadium. Supporters said locating a park virtually next-door to the reflective glass of the stadium would create conditions that would draw migratory birds to smash into the building's 200,000 square feet of glass.

"It's cruel, it's gory and it's sad," said Michelle Schroeder, one speaker. Proponents of glass that's more visible to birds have taken their case to Gov. Mark Dayton and to the Minnesota Sports Facilities Commission without winning their requested substitution that costs an estimated $1.1 million. The team has said it will work with 3M to test a film that might make the glass safer, but opponents say they doubt how real that product is.

Commissioners voting for the sale-leaseback arrangement were Meg Forney, John Erwin, Steffanie Musich, Jon Olson, Anita Tabb, Scott Vreeland and Liz Wielinski. They generally argued that the Park Board can't force changes in the design of a stadium negotiated by the team and the authority. The park deal was opposed by Annie Young and Brad Bourn.

An effort by Bourn to send the deal back to committee to develop new terms for the park failed for lack of a second. The Park Board months ago passed a resolution urging bird-safe glass be incorporated in the stadium.

The park agreement is intended to meet a legal requirement in the city charter -- reinforced by a judge a year ago in an aborted challenge to the stadium -- that the Park Board has authority for parks in the city.  The $1 sale to the Park Board will take place by mid-2016 after Ryan Companies finishes construction in the area. The leasing of the land back to the city allows it to have a third-party conservancy oversee use of the park.

The Park Board refused earlier this year to develop and run the park due to the expected cost of maintaining it and the estimated 80 days per year when it would be reserved for use by the team or the authority, under a deal negotiated by the city.

Proponents of the sale-lease said the upside is that decades from now the Park Board will have a substantial downtown park after the deal expires. They said that turning down the arrangement would mean the city would go ahead with the park, forcing the park system to sue to preserve its charter authority.

But bird advocates pressed with arguments for hinging the deal on changing to bird-safe glass.  "No one has more responsibility to protect migratory birds than you," state Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, told commissioners. "It will become a killing field for birds."

"To say you have no power is a copout," Kahn said. "'No' is a very powerful word and you should use it."


Deal ends Uptown apartment pumping by March 31

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: December 15, 2014 - 4:51 PM

A proposed agreement to halt the pumping of groundwater from an Uptown luxury apartment building into the Minneapolis Chain of Lakes was outlined Monday afternoon in Hennepin County District Court.

The tentative agreement calls for Lake and Knox LLC, the owner of the 57-unit apartment at 1800 W. Lake St., to cease pumping groundwater by March 31, by which time it expects to have filled its lower parking level before letting it flood.

The building’s pumps annually send 90 million gallons of groundwater to a nearby lagoon. That’s enough to fill the seating area of Target Center.

The city of Minneapolis and the Park Board a year ago sued the building’s owners, arguing that the groundwater pumping was both illegal and harmed the quality of nearby waters, particularly Lake Calhoun and the lagoon between Calhoun and Lake of the Isles. Judge Philip D. Bush ruled the pumping illegal on three different grounds.

The Park Board is not a party to the settlement, and its attorney, Brian Rice, is scheduled to discuss its litigation with the board in a closed session on Wednesday.  It is seeking damages to offset the impact of extra algae-feeding phosphorus that city and park experts say is carried by the pumped water into the lake.

“We’re very pleased with this settlement,” Rice told Bush.

The general agreement hammered out by attorney Charles Nauen, representing the city, and Del Ehrich, for Lake and Knox, now will fleshed out. It’s expected to be submitted to the City Council for approval in mid-January, and then submitted to Bush for formal approval.

“It appears this is a workable solution to a difficult solution,” Bush said after hearing the tentative agreement.

The deal calls for the building owner to reimburse the city $130,709 for extra sewer cleaning and to reroute the pumped water from the lagoon out onto Calhoun to minimize unsafe ice conditions for the City of Lakes Loppet ski races. It will also pay about $75,000 more for rerouting the flow in the coming winter.

Lake and Knox said in court filings that it plans to use valet parking temporarily and build a new underground ramp next-door within a year to replace the parking it loses when the bottommost of two basement levels of parking in the building floods. That level was built below the water table; Lake and Knox is now seeking damages from several of its technical consultants on the apartment project, which was completed in 2011.

The replacement parking is outside the scope of the agreement, but Lake and Knox said it is crucial to replace parking to keep tenants and enough cash flow to finance the work.  It plans to remove mechanical and electrical components from the lower parking level, fill it with sand and gravel and then seal it off from remaining basement parking. The firm said that work is crucial to ensuring the building remains stable. It estimates the work will cost about $1.2 million, while adding new parking is expected to cost about $2 million.

“This is a big construction project, lot of moving pieces.  Everybody expects it will be implemented,” said Ehrich.

“It is turning the basement into a much deeper footing for the building,” Bush said. He’ll keep jurisdiction over the implementation of the deal if disputes arise.  Nauen said the deal contains a clause allowing for act of God delays.


Plan would make Park Board owner of downtown park

Posted by: Eric Roper Updated: December 4, 2014 - 12:38 PM

By Eric Roper and Steve Brandt

The Park Board gave preliminary approval  Wednesday night to a plan to take ownership -- in name only -- of the Downtown East park beside the new Vikings stadium.

The committee approval occurred after lengthy late-night discussion by park commissioners. The full board vote is scheduled for Dec. 17, after an expected City Council vote on the proposal on Dec. 12.

The plan is intended to maintain compliance with the city's charter, which grants the Park Board exclusive authority to operate and maintain public parks. That authority was made clear a year ago, when a district court judge said the Park Board must eventually take control of the space.

The proposed lease says the city will transfer the park to the Park Board for $1 after Ryan Companies completes construction. The Park Board will then lease it back to the city for the length of its agreement with the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority over use of the space, but no more than 50 years.

The Park Board previously declined to take control of the park because of the money it would require and the number of days that the city has committed to private uses under its agreement with the Authority.

The Park Board will not be responsible for funding the construction of the park's enhancements, which are expected to cost several million dollars. The lease agreement also says that those enhancements must include the following items:

(i) the design will be comparable to the standards for Gold Medal Park, including mature trees, seating, lighting, and pavement treatments, but without the mound as developed in Gold Medal Park; (ii) the design will provide for flexible programming of the space with an open core, locating any permanent structures on the perimeter; and (iii) the design may, but is not required to, include a playing field with high quality durable turf.

The city intends to have the park's operations and maintanence overseen by a third-party conservancy, which will likely be handled by the new organization Greening Downtown Minneapolis.

Former City Council President Paul Ostrow, who filed a lawsuit in 2013 challenging -- among other things -- the city's authority to control the park, urged park commissioners to reject the agreement.

"Once you approve this agreement you will own this debacle that further subsidizes the Vikings and makes a mockery of the public park system," Ostrow wrote in an e-mail to the board.

He called the plan a "gimmick" aimed at reaching compliance under the charter. "Whether or not such a dubious agreement would pass legal muster there can be no doubt as to your complicity in overriding the clear intent of the charter," Ostrow wrote.

Four of five park commissioners on the board’s administration and finance committee voted for the proposal.  They are Anita Tabb, Meg Forney, Jon Olson and Scott Vreeland.   Brad Bourn abstained. The proposal will need six votes from the nine commissioners to proceed.

Bike advocates lobby for protected lanes in 2015

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: December 2, 2014 - 2:52 PM

Bike advocates delivered some 3,400 postcards to City Hall on Tuesday with the aim of ensuring that the city funds protected bike lanes.

Mayor Betsy Hodges has proposed $790,000 to install protected bike lanes in 2015, plus money to maintain them. The council votes on that budget next week.

Several hundred Eighth Ward residents signed cards stating why they want the protected lanes, which typically are divided from traffic lanes by a physical barrier. That was the most for any ward. The Fifth Ward had the smallest stack of cards, with 65 residents declaring their support for the lanes.

The Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition delivered cards from each ward to the City Council member or a staff member, and to mayoral aide Peter Wagenius. They’ve been collected over the past eight months at events such as the six Open Streets events led by the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition, at which pedestrians and bikers have exclusive use of a major street for several hours.

The postcards let bikers put their support for the protected lanes in their own words.  In Ward 8, resident Faith Kumon wrote,  “I want to bike to work downtown without feeling terrified during rush hour.”  Anther ward resident, Jacquelynn Goessling added, “I love not being killed when I ride.”

Meanwhile, the city’s bike plan revision that will specify where to put those protected lanes is falling behind the original schedule of sending recommendations to the council by the end of the year. Only one project has been designated to date for 2015, which adds bike and foot lanes to a portion of NE Broadway St.

Some bike advocates have suggested that Minneapolis is falling behind other leading biking cities in not moving faster on the protected lanes, which are intended to help bikers feel more protected from cars and encourage more people to ride. The city has adopted a goal of creating 30 miles of such lanes by 2020, which was advocated by the coalition.

The postcards were delivered to City Hall in a plastic file box on a bicycle trailer hauled by Ethan Fawley, executive director of the coalition.   

The money for protected bike lanes made it through the council’s budget markup session with any effort to remove it.  That’s despite a comment recently by Council President Barbara Johnson that fighting crime should have a higher priority in the city’s budget than protected lanes.

Council Member Linea Palmisano on Monday aborted her proposed amendment to strip ongoing funding for pedestrian safety work by $250,000 of the $350,000 it gets.  

(Ethan Fawley, executive director of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition, delivered a box of pro-protected bike lane postcards to City Hall on Monday on a bike trailer.)


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