Graco Inc. is taking advantage of a quickly approaching funding deadline to manipulate the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board to sell riverfront parkland or risk losing the funding for a much-needed and long-awaited trail connection. In his Feb. 18 commentary (“Graco is happy to negotiate on land Park Board wants for trail”) defending Graco’s bullying of the Park Board and the community, Bill Blazar of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce suggests we look at history.

In 2000, Graco was granted special permission to build its headquarters right on the Mississippi River, very close to the water. In exchange, Graco was asked to provide an easement for a pedestrian and bicycle trail behind the building. In a letter on Aug. 4, 2000, Robert M. Mattison, Graco’s vice president, general counsel and secretary, said:

“Graco hereby undertakes to work with the city of Minneapolis and/or the Minneapolis Park Board to locate a corridor and grant an easement for a parkway, including bicycle/pedestrian path and vehicle road, on the property of Graco west of the Riverside facility. This easement will be granted for such a corridor to run under the Broadway bridge next to the Mississippi River, and will be granted when the city of Minneapolis and/or the Minneapolis Park Board is ready to proceed with the construction of such a path/road….”

Even Blazar’s article concedes that “[Graco] has said on numerous occasions that it is willing to provide an easement.” He neglects to mention that it has never before tried to attach any requirements to purchase parkland to expand its headquarters.

For 130 years, the Park Board has been working to create and protect our shore land and waterways as public amenities. In Minneapolis, there are very few private properties on shore land. The Park Board buys up shore properties and creates parks, as properties become available, focusing on certain areas for planning and development.

North and northeast Minneapolis have been very patient. Talk of developing the river north of the Plymouth Bridge started in the late 1990s, but nothing really happened until after 2005. The Sheridan Neighborhood of northeast Minneapolis was the last neighborhood in the city to get a park within its borders. That park is so new that it is less than half finished.

The trail Graco is obstructing would run through that park and provide a much-needed link between the Minneapolis trail system and the 18th Avenue Bikeway, finally connecting a large portion of northeast Minneapolis with this tremendous city amenity.

Such development projects are dependent on funding. A federal grant of over $1 million for this project goes away this spring if the Park Board cannot secure an easement from Graco. Knowing this, Graco is using it to strong-arm the Park Board and the community in an effort to get what it wants.

The expansion of Graco’s headquarters would be welcome, if it were not for the fact that it wants to hoard the riverfront. It is willfully holding the Park Board over a barrel for 2 acres of parkland, in exchange for an easement it already promised “will be granted when the Park Board is ready to proceed.”

Former Graco CEO David Koch is credited with the growth and success of the company. He passed away last month. In his obituary, Koch is quoted as saying, “The government, the people, give franchises to business to operate in the public interest. And I haven’t heard one businessperson stand up and say, ‘I’m sorry for screwing up the system.’ ”

The negotiations are done. Graco already got what it wanted — to build on the river 15 years ago and block off a popular street for its truck dock. It is time for Graco to be a good neighbor and honor its commitments to the community by granting the easement it promised, without strings attached.

 

Jenny Fortman is a board member of the Sheridan Neighborhood Organization.