A crucial component of the new Vikings stadium plan involves a $400 million project to convert the property where the Star Tribune is currently officed into downtown Minneapolis's largest park.
But it turns out "park" should probably be placed in quotation marks. That's because, as David Brauer writes in the Southwest Journal, an agreement signed in February by the city, Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, and developer Ryan Cos. cedes control over what happens in the space to the Wilfs and the MSFA for 86 days per year, or up to 118 days if an MLS team comes to town. (Former Mayor R.T. Rybak recently criticized city officials for approving the February agreement in a Star Tribune op-ed.)
Council Member Jacob Frey is one of two Minneapolis City Council members (along with Barb Johnson) on a five-member authority that is currently negotiating ownership and use agreements pertaining to "The Yard," as the downtown east park has come to be known.
Asked whether the Wilfs and the MSFA having that level of control over the space is a problem, Frey replies, "Yes, it is a concern."
But much is left to be decided, Frey adds.
"I think most of us [on the authority] are in agreement at this point that the Park Board legally should be the owner, and then the question is, which entity is best suited to run the day-to-day activities and conduct negotiations?" he continues. "I am a proponent of a conservancy with Park Board members, council members, business leaders in the area, and community members, and it would be set up so the sole purpose of the entity would be operations and maintenance ensuring that the Yard is a living, breathing, green space, so you would need an entity to do work like picking up trash and mowing lawn."
Access issues aside, Frey says another concern is where the money for park facilities and programming will come from. So far the Vikings have pledged $1 million, but up to $5 million more is needed.
"We need to ensure the park has adequate investment," Frey says. "We can have a bunch of dead grass and pigeons flying around or we can have a lively, rocking space, and I think in Minneapolis what's essential to a lively, rocking space is moveable, transient programming. So an outdoor movie theater during the summer that you could break down and take away, an ice rink in winter, perhaps fire pits to stay warm... I don't think we can go with the 1980s anal-etentive model of throwing up concrete and calling it a day."
But who will pay for all that?
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"Very clearly there are big businesses in and around the Yard that will benefit significantly from a well-operated and maintained space," Frey replies.
While he acknowledges concerns about how much control the Wilfs and MSFA will have over the Yard, Frey says it's important to keep in mind that the public won't necessarily be barred from accessing the space.
"Like any contract there are ambiguities, and we want to make sure the the public gets the most bang for its buck and gets to use the space for as many days as possible," Frey says. "So let's say the [MSFA] schedules a big flea market. That would be programming that was scheduled, but it'd be open to the public and wouldn't be part of the days that are quote-unquote public days. They could schedule things like that but it's not unprogrammed throwing-around-a-frisbee time."