Minneapolis park commissioners voted Wednesday to condemn a strip of land on the northeast Minneapolis riverfront if there's no agreement with owner Graco Minnesota Inc. on an easement needed to build a recreational trail this summer.
The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board says it needs control of the land by May 31 or it will lose a $1 million federal grant that will pay much of the cost of the 0.9-mile trail extension upriver from Boom Island.
That gives little time for a breakthrough in the deadlocked negotiations between Graco and the Park Board. Even what is called a quick-take condemnation typically requires three months after going to court. The 7-0 board vote also retains the Malkerson Gunn Martin law firm.
Commissioners were bitter over the turn of events. "They're greedy," said Scott Vreeland, who characterized the company's position as rewriting a community promise and an ethical lapse. "Everyone I know in Northeast is disappointed in Graco," John Erwin added.
Graco agreed to give an easement for the sliver of land as one requirement in a 2000 expansion-aid deal with the city. But the easement was never consummated. Despite that, the city issued a certificate of completion of the requirements.
Graco also asserts that a now-departed city development coordinator verbally released Graco from the easement requirement.
The firm has tied giving the easement to obtaining part of the former Scherer Bros. Lumber Co. site, now owned by the Park Board, which lies just upriver from the Plymouth Avenue Bridge. The Scherer site abuts Graco's complex of three buildings and acres of parking, just downriver from the Broadway Avenue Bridge.
But the Park Board plans to develop the 11-acre Scherer site, for which it paid $7.7 million, as a riverfront park. It has tentative plans to offer part of the site for private development but intends that to be complementary to the park, such as a restaurant or kayak rental facility.
Meanwhile, the board also gave an informal go-ahead to a change of direction for another riverfront site. It earlier sought to renovate a building and parking lot it bought in 2012 at 1720 Marshall St. NE. to use as an operations center. Planners sought to consolidate workers and equipment from North Side and northeast park maintenance yards at that site. But after neighbors argued last fall for a park on the river, staffers now recommend using the site for only five or six years if the other facilities can be renovated.
The board also conditionally approved an agreement with developers and landowners involved in the Mill City Quarter housing development on two downtown blocks of S. 2nd Street, next to the RiverWest condominiums. The agreement would allow people to bike, walk and park during off-peak hours along an easement through the development. The old rail corridor would eventually connect under S. 1st Avenue with Park Board land, providing a new downtown riverfront access with parking.
The arrangement is significant because it would represent the first agreement for public use of private land as an alternative under a new local law that generally requires developers to contribute either land or money for park development. Commissioners said they want a more amenity-rich plaza negotiated before Park Board staff sign the deal.