Byrn Mawr Park concept creates political storm

Good long-term planning, bad public communication?

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board is developing plans to make Bryn Mawr Meadows a less intense, kid-oriented park and build a new Parade stadium in Lowry Hill, returning that site to its former glory as a citywide sports venue, said Interim Supt. Jon Gurban.

The Park Board was scheduled to discuss draft plans at its Aug. 18 meeting, after the Southwest Journal’s deadline. The proposal has no budget or timeline, and Park Board staff said it is not even a plan, but a very preliminary layout.

Still, long-standing internal Park Board friction and neighborhood mistrust have gotten the concept off on the wrong foot.

It seems an odd time to float a major new initiative. The Park Board, like most cash-strapped local governments, is struggling to maintain current services, let alone add new amenities.

Judd Rietkerk, Park Board general manager for planning, said the opening of Van White Boulevard helped push the brainstorming forward. Van White will provide a north-south link connecting The Parade and Bryn Mawr Meadows, now separated by the I-394 chasm.

Gurban said Bryn Mawr could have more and better soccer fields to meet that sport’s growing demand, and fewer softball fields. An artificial turf field at Parade could support higher-intensity uses — with soccer, lacrosse and football games all played the same day, in spite of weather.

"Bryn Mawr has too-intense use by adults," Gurban said, adding that the plan "would allow Bryn Mawr to become less intense use and be used a little bit more by kids."

Big ifs

On the Parade site, Gurban said he is "a strong advocate for doing some sort of stadium."

Parade Stadium was built in 1951 near what is now the Walker Sculpture Garden and was torn down in 1990. Gurban, a Southwest High graduate, said the city is missing out by not having a similar venue today, and he would like to see a 5,000- to 7,000-seat stadium.

"It was one of the places in Minneapolis that the whole city could gather," he said. "You would get to know your neighbors from across the city."

Bryn Mawr Meadows now has 13 overlapping ball fields, several unofficial soccer fields and two cricket pitches, Rietkerk said. He described the current layout as "10 pounds in a five-pound bag."

The draft layout shows six youth soccer fields, three baseball fields and three softball fields, and maintains the cricket pitches.

In addition, the layout shows three new softball fields — if the Park Board could acquire the west end of the city’s impound lot.

Further, the plan adds three new full-sized soccer fields, a skateboard facility and a domed volleyball and basketball facility — if the Park Board could acquire city land north of I-394.

These are not the first plans to upgrade Bryn Mawr Meadows’ fields. Former Supt. David Fisher proposed upgrades. City redevelopment concepts added to the momentum.

Before the Guthrie Theater found its riverfront location, city leaders proposed using the Park Board’s Parade baseball stadium as the new Guthrie site. City Councilmember Barb Johnson (4th Ward) recalls the city offered the Park Board a carrot: enhanced Bryn Mawr fields.

That plan died. Johnson led the charge to save Parade Stadium, she said. Greg Lecker, Bryn Mawr Neighborhood Association (BMNA) Revitalization Program chair, said residents opposed the Bryn Mawr field upgrades because of the fencing, lights and potential for added traffic.

By creating a less-intense use, Gurban said he was "cautiously optimistic" the ideas would resonate with the neighborhood.

Rifts

The problem is, the community heard rumors of the plan well before it saw anything. It raised questions and touched the old neighborhood nerve.

BMNA caught wind that Park Board Commissioner Bob Fine had met privately with City Councilmembers to discuss the plan. It wrote the Park Board Aug. 3, reminding it of the neighborhood’s past opposition to field upgrades. It questioned how the plan fits with the area’s master plan or land use plan.

BMNA’s letter criticized Fine for excluding Commissioner Vivian Mason from discussions. Mason’s district includes Bryn Mawr and Parade. Her exclusion "has damaged the neighborhood’s trust" in the Park Board, the letter said.

Mason and Fine have been on opposite Park Board factions in recent years, over a host of issues.

Mason said she learned of the Park Board plans from residents at a Bryn Mawr Ice Cream Social. She said she was "outraged" to learn Fine was touting the plan to other city leaders — and that the Park Board spent $10,000 on Bryn Mawr plans from a $300,000 preplanning fund she did not know existed.

Fine downplayed his recent discussions about redeveloping and expanding Bryn Mawr fields, saying he has been talking to people about it for five years.

Fine called Bryn Mawr Meadows a central city park that affects everyone in the city. "Why do I need to talk to her [Mason]?" he asked. "We work differently than the City Council. One person doesn’t own the whole district."

Johnson said Fine asked her to set up a meeting with Councilmembers Lisa Goodman (7th Ward) and Natalie Johnson Lee (5th Ward), an effort to broach the future use of the city-owned land.

It appears he made little headway.

Johnson called the meeting "tense."

Goodman, who represents Bryn Mawr and Lowry Hill, declined an interview request. She said it is not a city project.

However, in a July 23 e-mail to Mason and constituents, Goodman raised many concerns and objections to the plans.

Fine showed "audacity" in promoting a major proposal in Mason’s district without including Mason, Goodman wrote. The Park Board’s plan conflicts with other area plans. It is "unfunded" and "very costly." She questioned pursuing a park expansion when the system lacks money for general upkeep.

Johnson Lee didn’t recall many meeting specifics, except that Goodman "pretty much reamed" Fine. "For me, it was not a relevant plan because it had not gone through any [neighborhood] committee process," she said.

Fine said Goodman is the only person he has talked to that was strongly against the proposal. "I would like to see the impound lot and the rock crusher become parkland," he said. "All I want to do is improve the city."

Talking to neighbors

Gurban said the Park Board would not make changes at Bryn Mawr "without solid community input and support."

From the Park Board’s perspective, staff needed to do its own internal brainstorming before going public.

Why not include neighborhood groups sooner?

"I want to bring some statistical information to that neighborhood group so they can be better informed, and not just anecdotal information," Gurban said. "I think we are doing this in a proper sequence."

Rietkerk said the new Bryn Mawr layouts include lights and fences. Gurban said those issues would all be items to discuss.

The community should have plenty of time to comment. The project is not included in the Park Board’s five-year borrowing plan.

Gurban said it was premature to create a budget. "Why would I want to curtail the brainstorming with a dollar amount?" he asked. "Reality will hit us soon enough."