Northeast Minneapolis will soon get a new park with direct access to the Mississippi River.
In an agreement that ends years of legal wrangling, the city’s Park Board is selling part of its riverfront land to Graco Inc., and in exchange the manufacturer will donate $5 million to develop the former Scherer Bros. Lumber Co. site as parkland.
Graco Park, which is what the former lumberyard will be called, is expected to open to the public by 2022.
“This agreement with Graco allows the Park Board to build a world-class park that will return much-needed green space along the river for everyone while also preserving the city’s ability to retain and attract jobs,” Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board President Brad Bourn said in a prepared statement.
The Park Board agreed to sell 2.2 acres of Parcel D, which encompasses 3.55 acres of undeveloped land located upstream from the Plymouth Avenue Bridge on the east bank of the river, to Graco for $1.1 million.
Graco agreed to donate the contested “trail easement” on the river side of its plant, thus ending legal proceedings over a related land-condemnation case. Graco and its foundation also agreed to help develop the park and the rest of Parcel D for park amenities such as restrooms and concessions.
In purchasing a piece of the parkland, Graco affirmed its headquarters’ commitment to the 800-employee campus, which includes manufacturing, research and administrative functions.
Years ago, the company wanted to develop part of the Scherer site as its new corporate headquarters. However, it currently has no plans to build any new facilities there.
“We are extremely pleased to assist financially in the development of this beautiful park to be enjoyed by all community stakeholders, including Graco employees,” Graco CEO Pat McHale said in a statement. “This agreement is an outstanding example of public and private cooperation, and we thank both the Park Board and the city for their constructive work to achieve this result.”
Mayor Jacob Frey, who hosted a pivotal June meeting among Bourn, McHale and other officials in his office, hailed the agreement as an opportunity to deliver the park years earlier than it would have taken without the Graco contribution.
“We saw an opportunity to take a tumultuous relationship and bring it into the sun a bit,” said Frey, who represented northeast Minneapolis on the City Council before he became mayor last year. “It will be a beautiful park, done a half-generation earlier because of the settlement of the easements and the Graco investment. Those funds would have had to come from somewhere else.
“My role was bringing people to each side, bringing them to the table and pushing for a strong, mutually beneficial agreement.”
Beginning of regional park
Graco Park has been nearly a decade in the making and will open sooner than previously expected. It will be the beginning and crucial piece to Above the Falls Regional Park, which would extend from the Plymouth Avenue Bridge up the Mississippi River to city limits.
Before park officials bought the 11-acre Scherer site in 2010 for $7.7 million, Graco had offered a small piece of its land in a 2000 development deal with the city that would have allowed the company to build closer to the river, said Michael Schroeder, the Park Board’s assistant superintendent for planning. But that didn’t happen.
A few years later, after the board purchased the Scherer site, it wanted to continue the East Bank Trail up the river.
Then, with the deadline of a $1 million federal grant looming to build the trail in 2015, the Park Board and Graco became locked in a disagreement about terms of the exchange.
Graco then proposed that it develop Parcel D, which was never destined to be parkland. In exchange, it would give the trail land to the Park Board.
“Some maybe thought ‘You get to develop this, we get the land,’ ” Schroeder said.
Earlier this year, the Park Board and Graco realized they both wanted very similar things, and the exchange was made.
Graco, with revenue of about $1.5 billion, is a global manufacturer of fluid-handling equipment, from grease guns to paint-sprayers and tomato-paste spreaders. It was founded in the 1920s by the two Gray brothers who invented an air-powered grease gun that allowed them to lubricate vehicles on cold winter days.
The company’s total contribution is about $10.6 million, which includes the donation, flood protection, and release of the condemnation claim.
The park proposal still needs to be approved at the Oct. 3 Park Board committee meeting. If approved, it will go to the full board for the final vote.