A deal to use the morgue parking lot near the Vikings stadium in downtown Minneapolis for pregame festivities is nearing final approval at Hennepin County, potentially allowing more public access to the nearby “Commons” park.
The long-term lease, to be reviewed Tuesday by county commissioners, could prove significant because of tensions at City Hall over how tent installations in the park would reduce public access. An agreement between the city and the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA) signed in February 2014 allowed ample time for tent setup and take down, spurring criticism that the public park will be tied up by private uses much of the year.
If the lease is approved, the authority would likely erect tents there for part of the year.
“That leaves the Commons substantially more open, substantially more flexible, and it seriously cuts back on the number of Vikings days” using the park, said Council Member Jacob Frey, who represents the area.
The parking lot is adjacent to a plaza that will ultimately bear Medtronic’s name, following the announcement of naming rights on Monday. (See related story on D1.)
City leaders want to protect the public nature of the park because they are shelling out $18.8 million — debt backed by parking revenue at a nearby ramp — to prepare the former Star Tribune site, and are trying to raise $22 million to construct the complex vision created by consultants Hargreaves Associates.
The precise number of days the park is allowed for use by the authority or Vikings is difficult to pinpoint, but portions of it could be restricted for more than 100 days in extreme scenarios. The City Council asked staff last Friday to provide a more detailed analysis.
“If they are going to [lease the morgue site], we should go back and amend the use agreement and get it more in line with what they actually need,” said Council Member Cam Gordon, a vocal critic of the park agreement.
Vikings vice president Lester Bagley said Monday that the parking lot is “an important space” since it is connected to the Medtronic Plaza and is not blocked by light-rail tracks.
“We anticipate using this space for hospitality — food and beverage, music/entertainment and a fan gathering space within a [tented] structure,” Bagley said in an e-mail Monday.
County commissioners will review the agreement Tuesday to lease the 35,860-square-foot parcel to the authority for $282,297 a year, with periodic adjustments. The term would last until 2046, but the county could terminate after 15 years.
County administrator David Hough said the parking lot currently offers monthly contracts to both public and county customers. The deal would not interfere with access to the medical examiner’s office and adjoining sheriff’s crime lab, he said.