It may take attorneys and a judge to resolve the dispute between the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board and Graco Inc.
But a far more productive use of time and taxpayer dollars would be for city leaders to forge a compromise that would reflect the integral role corporations like Graco and organizations like the Park Board play in making Minneapolis a successful city. At stake are the kind of steady, good-paying jobs and commercial tax-base growth that Minneapolis needs.
The complex dispute is centered on different interpretations of a deal Graco made with the city of Minneapolis in 2000 that provided about $1.175 million in tax-increment financing (TIF) to expand the company’s northeast Minneapolis facility.
Graco believes it fulfilled the obligations of the TIF deal, citing a signed “Certificate of Completion” from the city. The Park Board counters that the manufacturer still needs to live up to its original agreement to grant an easement for a strip of Mississippi riverfront land that would be used to extend a recreational trail.
Graco has long indicated that it is amenable to the easement but that in exchange it wants to buy about 2.5 acres of the adjacent 11-acre parcel that the Park Board purchased to develop a riverfront park. Graco, a maker of factory and construction spray equipment with $1.22 billion in annual revenues worldwide, would use the land to build a headquarters that would further anchor the growing company to Minneapolis and that also would create a barrier between a manufacturing and distribution facility that otherwise would abut the new park.
On Feb. 18, the Park Board voted unanimously to acquire a permanent easement or, if needed, condemn the designated land in order to build the trail. Time is of the essence — a July 15 deadline for a $1 million federal grant to help pay for the trail looms. So cue the lawyers — even though a better choice would be to cue city leaders.
A successful city is a complex organism. Its citizens depend on many entities for success, including good corporations like Graco, which has committed to the city at a time when many businesses choose to locate in lower-tax suburbs — or states. Graco has 765 employees in Minneapolis, with average factory salaries of $55,000 before benefits and average office salaries of about $85,000. Including benefits, Graco’s Minneapolis payroll is about $70 million, and last year the firm paid about $658,000 in Hennepin County property taxes.
Graco executives say that they support the trail and understand the importance of a good park system and that they’re willing to work with the Park Board — including on design specifications and uses of a new building.
The Park Board, created in 1883 as an independently elected governing authority, oversees a system encompassing 6,790 acres of parks, playgrounds, golf courses, gardens, paths, nature sanctuaries and lakes, as well as 55 miles of parkways. The board has an admirable legacy of building, maintaining, programming — and in this case, expanding — a park system that deservedly was rated the nation’s best in 2013 and 2014 by the Trust for Public Land. And it does so not just for Minneapolitans, as evidenced by the 21 million annual visits. The parks are the type of amenity that’s particularly attractive to the millennial generation that’s so critical to this region’s economic growth. Many peer cities do not — and in fact, cannot, due to historically poor planning — feature such a robust, well-managed park system.
The Park Board might prevail in a condemnation process. And it is not legally obligated to sell land to Graco or any outside entity. But the board depends on public funds and support. Forging a compromise that would allow Graco to build the headquarters as part of a development that includes a new trail and park is in the best interest of Minneapolis taxpayers.
City leaders, who would typically go to great lengths to attract a corporation like Graco, should extend similar effort to help broker a deal. The company has not threatened to move and is doing everything possible to expand. The Park Board is fulfilling its mission in preserving and enhancing the city’s abundant natural resources. There’s room for an agreement that would satisfy both sides.
Before the 2013 election, our series of editorials on “Growing Minneapolis” emphasized the ways city leaders in business and government needed to work together to leverage city assets to build a stronger economy.
The solvable dispute between Graco and the Park Board is a key test of that idea. This needn’t be a choice between parks and jobs — both can grow together. Mayor Betsy Hodges and key City Council leaders are in a unique position to bridge this divide and prove that Minneapolis deserves the recent national attention it has received for being a model of how a great city works.