Backlash delays contract for Wirth Park welcome center

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January 25, 2013
By: Nick Halter
Nick Halter
“The particular iteration of the contract is what I would call crap-tastic,” said Commissioner Liz Wielinski

A Minneapolis Park Board committee was set to vote on a contract that would create a partnership with the Loppet Foundation to build and operate a new “silent sports center” at Wirth Park, but public outcry sent staff back to the drawing board.

“The particular iteration of the contract is what I would call crap-tastic,” said Commissioner Liz Wielinski (District 1).

The agreement would have the Park Board relying on the Loppet Foundation (formerly the City of Lakes Nordic Ski Foundation) to raise $3 million for a silent sports center. That center would house a shop for bike ski rentals and sales; some type of concessions; a conference room; a great room and a training room.

In exchange for raising those funds, the Park Board would give the Loppet a 20-year lease with a 5-year option to operate the facility. The original agreement allowed the Loppet to pick tenants for the building and gave the Loppet naming rights.

The Park Board would spend $1.7 million it received from state bonding money to knock down the clubhouse for the par 3 golf course and for design work on the welcome center. The money would also go toward building a new parking lot and a “stadium” for mountain biking and skiing events.

The Park Board would have to use its own funds to relocate the 17th and 18th holes of the 18-hole course to make room for the building.

Members of the golf community raised concerns about the agreement with the Loppet Foundation. They said they weren’t involved in the contract and said they worried that the Park Board wasn’t committed to properly re-locating the two golf holes. They raised concerns over how much control a private group would have in a park that is shared with golfers.

Some non-golfers also raised concerns on public forums, saying a 25-year contract will give a private organization control over the city’s biggest park.

As a result of the backlash, the Park Board removed an item from its Jan. 17 agenda and commissioners said they wanted some issues addressed in a memorandum of understanding that was drafted between the Park Board and Loppet Foundation.

“I have a list of probably 50 different things,” said Commissioner Anita Tabb (District 4).

Loppet Foundation Executive Director John Munger urged the Park Board to move quickly on the contract, because it stipulates that the Foundation must raise the $3 million by the end of 2014. The goal is to have the new center build in time for the 2016-2017 winter.

“I am just going to tell you that you’re all very capable of killing this project by procedure, because if it’s three to six months before it’s done, we’re probably not going to be able to succeed,” Munger said.