Hennepin County officials are looking at leasing out part of the downtown Minneapolis morgue property in a deal that would provide new space for Minnesota Vikings gameday celebrations and give residents more access to the proposed Downtown East park.
The County Board will meet in a closed-door session Tuesday to mull whether to lease the downtown morgue parking lot to the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, the entity overseeing construction of the Vikings stadium next door. The arrangement would provide prime space to erect tents and other temporary structures for games and events, an activity that had threatened to block some public access to the park — now called the “Commons.”
“Getting tents off the Commons is a huge factor in maximizing public use and blows the doors wide open in terms of the number of publicly accessible days,” Council Member Jacob Frey said. “So basically, this is huge.”
Precisely how frequently the park is booked for the authority and Vikings has been controversial since it became clear last year it could be up to 80 days a year. One factor driving up that figure was the amount of time needed for just assembling and removing tents on the park — up to two extra days for each Vikings game.
“The idea is maybe we could put some of our tent structures [on the parking lot site] rather than all of them in the Commons area, to try to keep that a little bit more open,” said Michele Kelm-Helgen, chairwoman of the authority.
Under a 2014 agreement with the city, the authority may use the park for up to 40 days per year, not including any setup and deconstruction time. The Vikings can use it for up to 16 games, plus an additional 10 days. Even more days were booked for soccer games if the Vikings secured a Major League Soccer franchise, an effort they lost last month.
Vikings vice president Lester Bagley said the parking lot is “crucial” to the overall stadium district. Though its precise use hasn’t been decided, it may one day host entertainment and a variation on the traditional tailgating experience — since surface parking lots are being gobbled up.
But perhaps more important, unlike the Commons, the lot isn’t separated from the stadium by a light-rail line.
“Every 90 seconds there’s going to be a train coming from one direction or another,” Bagley said. “So the fact that this space is east of the LRT and it is more directly and physically connected to the [stadium] plaza, it will be more directly engaged as part of the gameday experience.”
The agreement is not a done deal. County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin said it may hinge on the terms of the agreement, including whether the county could reclaim the space in the event it’s needed for expansion of the morgue or the crime lab.
“The property is probably more valuable to us than it is to almost anybody else because of its adjacency to the hospital and to the other facilities that we have,” McLaughlin said.
Council Member Cam Gordon, who has been critical of the nonpublic commitments of the Commons, said the possible leasing arrangement was a step in the right direction. He would like to go a step further and remove the extra days from the Commons agreement, if they aren’t needed.
“I think this would be a great opportunity to relook at the agreement details and spell out these changes so it’s clear,” Gordon said.
More details about the possible design of the Commons will be unveiled Wednesday at 6 p.m. in the Mill City Museum. The “draft alternative approaches” will be presented by Hargreaves Associates, the firm designing the space.