A Minneapolis City Council candidate is suing the city he wants to help lead, alleging it is illegally operating Downtown East Commons park.
John Hayden, who is challenging Council Member Kevin Reich in the First Ward, filed a lawsuit Tuesday arguing Minneapolis cannot operate the Commons because the city charter gives the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board authority over park operations.
In addition to the city, the lawsuit names the Park Board, the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA) and the Minnesota Vikings. It asks for an injunction barring the use of city funds for construction, operation and maintenance of the Commons. It also asks that the agreement allowing the Vikings to use the park be rendered null and void.
“The public is paying to operate a park that was only built to serve the Vikings,” Hayden said. “And we’ve paid enough.”
Minneapolis City Attorney Susan Segal said Hayden’s lawsuit has no basis. The Park Board owns the land, which is leased to the city, and a nonprofit operates the park. The cost of acquiring the land and the bulk of construction and landscaping costs are being paid for with revenue from two nearby parking ramps the MSFA owns.
“There just has not been any violation of law,” she said.
Park Board spokeswoman Dawn Sommers said Park Board staff and legal counsel are reviewing the lawsuit, and believe they’re in full compliance with a previous court order. MSFA spokeswoman Jennifer Hathaway and Vikings spokesman Jeff Anderson declined to comment.
The Commons, which covers 4.2 acres adjacent to U.S. Bank Stadium, opened in July 2016. Annual park operations, paid for with private donations and city dollars, run more than $1 million.
Hayden said he’s concerned by a proposed $750,000 for the Commons in Mayor Betsy Hodges’ 2018 budget. He said the Park Board should take over operating the Commons and charge the Vikings to use the space.
In a statement, First Ward council candidate Jillia Pessenda agreed the city’s stadium subsidies were “a bad deal for Minneapolis residents,” but said the best way to address those concerns is through the political process.
Since the Commons opened, it’s been fully closed to the public only once — for the X Games, a ticketed event. Beth Shogren, executive director of Green Minneapolis, the nonprofit that operates the Commons, said the park has never been closed for a Vikings event.
This isn’t the first time the city has been taken to court over the Commons.
In a 2013 lawsuit, Paul Ostrow — former City Council president and current chairman of Hayden’s campaign — and two others challenged the park’s financing. They sought a temporary restraining order to keep the project from moving forward.
Hennepin County District Judge Mel Dickstein declined the restraining order, but said the city and Park Board had to work cooperatively to run the park.
Ostrow said he thinks Hayden’s lawsuit picks up where the 2013 lawsuit left off.
“I know it probably strikes people as extreme to file a lawsuit, but there really is no other option,” Ostrow said. “It really is time to finally get a determination from the court on this.”