Puzzled by Parade Stadium

Park Board commissioners, neighbors of project have questions about future plans for the site

LOWRY HILL — Several Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) commissioners are just as confused as residents about the status of Parade Stadium, an artificial turf field west of the Sculpture Garden.

They have several questions about the project: What is the long-term plan for the area? Who gets to have a say in the matter? How much will it cost?

“Generally, the process is, it goes to the planning committee, and there’s an actual formal presentation by staff, and that hasn’t happened yet,” said Commissioner Tracy Nordstrom whose district includes the stadium. “We haven’t actually had a full discussion with the full board about Parade Stadium as a priority ever.”

According to Judd Rietkerk, director of planning for the MPRB, staff is merely trying to repair the area after Cirque de Soleil left two years ago, which wouldn’t warrant a big discussion. But it’s potential future projects that have commissioners worried.

The superintendent’s dream

Several months ago, Park Board Superintendent Jon Gurban presented commissioners with his ideas for a master plan at Parade. The drawing included a large sports training facility, a multi-story events center, grandstand seating and a giant parking lot.

“All we have is those kind of colorful drawings and some hand-scratched out design stuff that just kind of tabulate stuff,” Reitkerk said. “There is no real in-depth as far as construction documents or measuring or anything like that. It’s all basically kind of allocations, concepts.”

In 2005, Cirque de Soleil had begun some demolition of the land, which would help to prepare it for artificial turf, but after they left, it was up to the MPRB to finish the job.

Work began this spring on a major makeover for the field, including $1 million worth of new turf and lights, according to Park Board documents.

The construction violated city zoning code and, on April 25, city officials issued a stop work order on the project, but construction continued anyway.

Next, the MPRB plans to install a $29,211 irrigation system to nurture the natural grass, which commissioners OK’d at a recent meeting. Other, more expensive plans are going ahead without board approval.

Historically, the board is required to approve new capital projects over $100,000, which doesn’t include maintenance projects. The problem is that the MPRB ordinances don’t have a clear definition between capital projects and maintenance projects. As far as Parade is concerned, staff considers the current construction maintenance. But at what point does maintenance turn into a new capital project?

At an Aug. 1 study session, commissioners were informed that a brick entry plaza and road will be built on the east side of the field to replace the current winding road on the west end. The additions will cost $308,000 and help set a framework for future development.

“We didn’t ask them to approve the road,” Rietkerk said, deeming it maintenance work. “We just assumed that the road would be an integral part of the whole project.”

Public involvement

According to a MPRB staff report, funding for Parade is coming from three sources: a $200,000 National Football League grant; $50,000 from Cirque de Soleil; and $1,709,000 of MPRB capital improvement money from 2005 and 2006.

The entire budget totals $1,959,000 and so far, they’ve used $1,620,173, including the new road, plaza and public works charges. Last January, the board approved $568,500 worth of additions to the field should funding become available, including grandstands, stadium seating and a $48,000 scoreboard.

Similar to requirements for Park Board approval, capital projects over $100,000 should be brought before a non-appointed Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC). Some commissioners and residents are upset that this hasn’t happened.

“I believe that there should have been a CAC,” Commissioner-at-large Annie Young said in a recent interview. People should have been told about the money that we received for the project, she explains, what our immediate plans for artificial turf and lighting were and that “in the meantime we have some dreams.”

Gurban insists that, CAC or no CAC, the project been transparent since the beginning.

“This isn’t a case that anyone is trying to hide or circumvent approvals or anything,” he said. “In fact you could argue just the opposite, that we’ve been very public with our dream.”

Last December, Gurban presented his ideas to residents of Lowry Hill at their neighborhood board meeting. Anita Tabb, who lives on Groveland Terrace, attended the meeting and agrees that he did make an effort to inform residents. “Our perspective isn’t that they haven’t made presentations,” she said. “It’s that they haven’t asked for citizens’ approval.”

On July 26, a group of nearby residents, including Tabb, petitioned the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board to complete an Environmental Assessment Worksheet to determine the potential impacts on the surroundings. According to Gurban, a consultant is responding to the request.

Keeping commissioners informed

Some commissioners might ultimately support Gurban’s plan for Parade Stadium, but first they want to see more details and be included in the process.

“Show me what the dream is and let me give you directions,” said Young. “What is the matter with sharing your ideas?”

At the end of the brief Aug. 1 study session, the commissioners agreed to hold a longer, more extensive session about the project before their Aug. 15 board meeting. On Aug. 9, Gurban sent out a memo letting commissioners know that the study session wasn’t going to happen, because he hadn’t received any written questions in advance.

“He was not explicit [about] sending the questions,” Young said.

“I’m as miffed as anybody in the whole thing,” Nordstrom said. “The perception is that there’s something very sneaky and underhanded going on. And that’s the last thing I want the public to think because it’s an important parcel.”

The future of the stadium remains uncertain. “We’re in discussions now with OK, what do we do next?” says Gurban, citing an additional playing field or a new scoreboard as possibilities. Parade Stadium is one of many projects on his plate, he says, adding, “I got a ton of dreams.”

Contact Mary O’Regan at [email protected] or 436-5088.