Park Board pulls out of "the Yard," meaning huge downtown space won't be a park, per se

This is the city's vision for how downtown east will look two years from now, but much work remains to be done and time is running short.

This is the city's vision for how downtown east will look two years from now, but much work remains to be done and time is running short.

Earlier this week, the Minneapolis Park Board voted to have nothing to do with "the Yard," the name officials are using for the huge community space they envision sitting adjacent to the new Vikings stadium.

Notice we used the term "community space," not "park." That's because the Park Board's lack of involvement means the Yard won't be a park, per se.

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Park Board members cited concerns about being tasked to oversee a "public" space that will be under the control of the Wilfs and the MSFA for 86 days per year, or up to 118 days if an MLS team comes to town. Another worry was that the Yard might end up being a money pit, as it's unclear at this point who will pay for the amenities officials envision the space having, not to mention maintenance.

But City Council Member Jacob Frey, one of the officials most intimately involved in negotiations concerning the Yard, says officials are now moving full speed ahead with the "conservancy" approach he's favored all along.

Asked to explain what that entails, Frey says, "You create a conservancy with a board and a couple of City Council members, [and members from] the Park Board, business interests, and community leaders, and they would kind of oversee the governance structure," Frey tells us. "The thought is the DID [Downtown Improvement District] or Downtown Council would do the day-to-day maintenance, mowing the lawn and that kind of thing."

"I was pushing for that all along," he continues. "The previous assumption was that the Park Board would own it, and it looks like they don't want to do it, and that's fine. The Park Board runs a tremendous neighborhood park system and this is different... it's a little bit of a different ballgame."

Frey, in fact, applauded the Park Board's decision to stay out of the project.

"All entities have their areas of expertise, and the Park Board has shown over many decades that they are extremely apt handling both neighborhood parks and riverfront land, and lakes," Frey says. "They would have to spend money, time, human resources, and capital and take that away from their other ventures, which are going very well by and large, and devote them to the Yard, and I don't blame them. I think they made a great choice."

The Star Tribune reports that money has already been earmarked for conversion of the land where the Strib's property currently stands into a no-frills grassy area. That'll cost about $6 million. But with amenities, the Yard's price tag is expected to balloon up to $20 million, and yearly maintenance costs could be as much as $3 million.

Meanwhile, the Park Board is facing a $1.3 million budget shortfall next year.

The need to fundraise to pay for the Yard is one of the biggest reasons it's important for officials to figure out the specifics of a conservancy as soon as possible, Frey says.

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"I don't think we should be compromising at all on the big vision [for the Yard], but we need to start raising money," Frey says. "One of the big undertakings is, let's get the capital."

Asked whether some of that capital might come from public coffers, Frey says he envisions the Yard's buildout, at least, will be covered entirely by private donors.

"There are numerous entities that have vested interests in making sure the Yard is a huge success," he says. "I don't anticipate public subsidy for the capital phase of the Yard."

A specific revenue stream Frey mentioned is the "air rights" to the space above a parking ramp adjacent to the Yard. The idea is that a developer will pay up to $5 million to the city for the rights to build a multi-story structure on top of it.

"I would like to see dollars resulting from the sale of air rights above the parking ramp go into the Yard," Frey says.

Time is beginning to become a real issue, however. While construction of the new stadium is already well underway, details about the conservancy that will presumably oversee the Yard still haven't been finalized, not to mention specific plans regarding the space itself. Nonetheless, the plan is for the Yard to open along with the new stadium roughly two years from now.

Send your story tips to the author, Aaron Rupar. Follow him on Twitter @atrupar.