Minneapolis park officials have told representatives of Graco Minnesota Inc. that they would consider allowing construction of a corporate building on leased land at a neighboring park site in northeast Minneapolis — assuming the company grants a long-sought easement for paths.
The possible lease of up to 99 years could break an impasse between the park system and the company over East Bank development between the Broadway and Plymouth bridges, as long as several conditions are met.
The biggest is that Graco finally grants the easement for recreational paths along the Mississippi River that it promised years ago. Another is that any building the company develops at the former Scherer Bros. lumberyard site include first-floor space for park-related concessions.
“I’m very hopeful, but the devil will be in the details,” said Park Board President Liz Wielinski, whose East Side district includes the land in question.
A Graco spokesman said company officials are pleased with the negotiations, but wouldn’t comment further now.
Park commissioners are entertaining the idea of development on about 2 acres of the 10-acre site, because the lease income could help pay for park operating costs. Park officials bought the land in 2010 for $7.7 million.
“We’re adding a park. We need to add revenue,” North Side Commissioner Jon Olson said.
Park officials for several years have planned to allow private development on part of the site of the future park. But the RiverFirst initiative the Park Board participated in called for seeking competitive development proposals.
Some are reserving judgment. Mary Maguire, a longtime upper river activist, said the new park shouldn’t look like an extension of Graco’s campus of more than 20 acres. “I have concerns and I think many people in the community share those concerns,” she said.
The 2012 RiverFirst plan called for the reconstruction of what was once Hall’s Island, along with a cafe and a beach for kayaking. The Park Board is now seeking permits to go ahead with that work, and is seeking $12 million in state money.
Graco pledged in a 2000 development deal with the city to grant an easement for foot and bike paths on the river side of its two-block-long factory north of Scherer. But that was never accomplished. Now the Park Board wants to extend paths by nearly a mile upriver from Boom Island Park, which is on the other side of the Plymouth bridge from the Scherer land. It needs control of the route by mid-July to keep a $1 million federal grant, which is the largest share of path funding.
But Graco has tied granting the easement to getting the right to develop part of the Scherer site, which it says it wants as a buffer for its nearby loading docks. The Park Board voted to acquire the easement by condemnation if negotiations didn’t succeed. Building on the Scherer land could give Graco a corporate headquarters with a splendid skyline view.