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Plan to address reduced Phillips pool funding gap due later this month

The four-year-old drive to rehab the Phillips Community Center pool and add a teaching pool is now within $417,000 of the estimated $5.4 million cost, thanks to a Minneapolis schools contribution. 

Minneapolis park Superintendent Jayne Miller said she'll bring a plan to the board's July 15 meeting for closing that gap, as directed by the board on April 1.

But Miller said Wednesday night that she doesn't expect to recommend taking out a mortgage against the park headquarters building as part of her gap-closing strategy. She said that the shrinking size of the gap, given the $1.75 million school contribution to the project, makes that less necessary.

Miller also has been hoping to reserve the park district's equity in its headquarters building to borrow against for part of the cost of improvements at two Park Board maintenance facilities in northeast and north Minneapolis. That cost is estimated at $8.8 million.

The school board last month approved providing the funding, contingent on reaching agreement on a school wish list of priorities for using the pool and other sports facilities and programs. The pool commitment was made as the district is facing a multi-million dollar budget deficit.

The district earlier committed $150,000 annually for five years to subsidize pool operations. That and other expected income still leave an estimated $128,000 annual operating gap.

The Park Board voted to accept the school contribution, if an agreement between the park and school boards on athletic facility priority is reached. 

The school district wants scheduling priority at two park-owned ice arenas for hockey, at the Neiman sport complex for baseball, softball and soccer, and at Parade fields for football, soccer and baseball. It also seeks swimming classes for students and certified lifeguards, collaborative programs at the Green Central gym and school, rehabbing Todd Field for Washburn softball, further improvements at Bossen Field by 2018, and better coordination between the two systems.

(Photo above: South goalie Jason Green deflected an Edison shot in this 1990 Minneapolis high school game at Parade Ice Garden. The school district wants priority scheduling at Parade.)

Park Board dumps on Graco proposal, keeps it alive for at least two weeks

(The two gray sections in the schematic concept above show where the two Graco-Ryan buildings would go in relation to a riverfront park.)  

Minneapolis park commissioners lined up Wednesday evening to dump all over a proposal by Graco Minnesota Inc. to develop part of a northeast riverfront park, but they didn't kill it either.

Instead, a Park Board committee forwarded the Graco proposal to the full board, which will take it up in two weeks. The board earlier this year granted Graco, whose Minneapolis complex abuts the planned park on the former Scherer lumberyard, the right to submit a proposal ahead of other developers.

Commissioners griped that Graco's planned two-building development with Ryan Companies was too small to generate enough rent to pay the entire cost of maintaining the public portion of the park, had too much surface parking at 283 spots, and didn't provide enough public space and access.

"Graco seems to be trapped in the 60s and 70s with this design," opined board President Liz Wielinski, who represents the East Side.

But there appear to be strategic reasons behind the board's complaints as well. Although they didn't direct their staff to work with Graco to improve its proposal, commissioners clearly are hoping for changes that better meet board criteria for developing the parcel before the July 15 board meeting.

"We want to see if we can get a better proposal," said Commissioner Scott Vreeland Thursday. He made the unanimously backed proposal that the matter be advanced to the board meeting without a recommendation.

The decision not to reject the proposal also comes as the park system moves into the price-setting phase of its condemnation action to obtain a nearby easement for a riverfront trail on Graco land. A court has granted the park system's condemnation motion. But Graco has said through spokesman Bryce Hallowell that it will want significantly more than the $622,300 in an appraisal done for the Park Board; the easement price will be set by court-appointed commissioners. Graco has not disclosed its asking price.

The proposal on the agenda Wednesday, originated by staff responding to earlier board direction, was to authorize negotiations with Graco to reach a development agreement, with park staff recommending 16 conditions. 

At its next meeting, the board potentially could reject the Graco proposal, accept a revised offer if one is made, or table Graco's plan and seek other proposals for the site, which would take about 10 weeks.

Hallowell said via e-mail: "We remain interested in working with the Park Board and the city on a development plan for a new corporate headquarters on the site that we believe would be well received by the community and be a very good fit for the long-term vision of riverfront development."

The board long has planned to develop the as-yet-unnamed Scherer property with a public park closer to the river, and a smaller privately developed area that would be leased for around 99 years to one or more tenants.

Graco and Ryan proposed two office buildings of about 50,000 square feet each that would be built along 10th Avenue NE. and NE Sibley Street. The first by 2017 would be for Graco, and a second by 2019 would be built for another large occupant. A schematic design produced as part of upper river planning envisioned 175,000 square feet of development.

The standoff illustrates some of the difficulty of a public-private partnership, especially without the impact of competing proposals.

Commissioners took plenty of shots. John Erwin said the design "looks like a giant corporate campus.  I can't even tell it's a park." Steffanie Musich added, "What we're being shown would be appropriate in the suburbs."  Annie Young commented: "They're just not getting it."

Meanwhile, the proposal was also panned by a upper river citizen committee that advises the city and Park Board. It called for development that includes at least cafes, restaurants, kayak rentals, bike shops and similar businesses.