Parks update

Park Board: Increase in rental fee planned long before convention

That the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board raised its largest tent rental fees to $10,000 from $60 not long before the Republican National Convention (RNC) comes to town seems like good timing. Superintendent Jon Gurban said so himself at a June 18 meeting of the board’s administration and finance committee.

But for making that statement, Gurban said he has received flak from people as far away as California and Texas. The person in charge of tent rentals
said he experienced a rise
 in angry inquiries.

The truth, they say, is that it’s all a misunderstanding.

“I can tell you, the RNC didn’t really enter my mind when working [the fees] out,” said Shane Stenzel, the Park Board’s manager of special services.

He said he started developing the increase in fees before the Twin Cities had been chosen to host a convention,
more than two years ago, because the board’s then-asking price wasn’t very much — $20 for the smallest tents, $60
for the largest.

The Park Board’s current fee structure, which was approved last year, is the result of research culled from cities throughout the country, including Boston, San Francisco, Chicago and New York.

“We chose what made the most sense considering the amenities we have,” Stenzel said. “For us, it was a situation where we had to look at it considering our financial situation.”

St. Paul doesn’t charge for tent rentals — only locator fees. Those can run from $500-$1,000, said Angela Mens, with the city’s parks and recreation
department.

Today, the Minneapolis Park Board charges no less than $50 per tent. The $10,000 amount, Stenzel said, is reserved only for the largest events.

That’s because it’s based on how much square footage the rental involves. Most events ask for less than 500 square feet, he said, which the $50 fee is for.

Stenzel said even the Lifetime Fitness Triathlon, one of the largest annual events involving tent rentals, didn’t need 10,000 square feet, the minimum space $10,000 is charged for.

As for the Republican convention, as of mid-July there were no official events yet planned on Minneapolis parkland. Convention planners have until Aug. 1 to get first pick.

Permit issued for railway construction

The Park Board has given the go-ahead for use of parkland on Nicollet Island to perform construction work on a railway bridge. Turns out, all that was needed to overturn an earlier permit denial was some
communication.

“I don’t think there had been much understanding,” said Ken Stevens, a retired Hennepin County official who now works as an independent consultant for the Northstar Commuter Rail project.

Earlier, the Park Board rejected a permit request from Lunda Construction, which was hired by Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway to replace a bridge on the east side of Nicollet Island. Lunda needed to use a portion of park property for the project, but the Park Board denied the request out of concerns that it wasn’t the right use of parkland.

Up until a June 18 Park Board meeting, the Northstar project — a 40-mile railway receiving government funding from many levels — had not been a part of the discussion. But a Lunda representative told the Park Board it was holding up the entire expensive operation.

The sides didn’t talk for about a week afterward. Eventually, Park Board Planning Director Judd Rietkerk said he gave a call to Northstar representatives to get a clearer idea of the Nicollet Island project. That’s when an understanding started to form, Rietkerk said, that the bridge work was an important part of a bigger picture.

Key to the Park Board was a promise that the parkland — although not the prettiest property — would be repaired after use. Liz Van Zomeren, the board’s real estate investigator, said employees with the city’s Public Works Department surveyed the grounds and made suggestions as to how damage could be
minimized.

The Park Board also is collecting a $15,000 “restoration deposit,” along with a
$200,000 bond that will act as further security.

“They’ve done what they need to do to deal with any damage they’ll do,” Van Zomeren said of Lunda.

Ultimately, the permit denial was nothing more than a tiny hiccup for the Northstar project, Stevens said. “A few weeks didn’t have any impact at all,” he said.

Dennis Behnke, vice president of Lunda’s Minnesota division, said construction on the bridge is slated for some time in August and will be completed within a week or two.

Minneapolis and St. Paul parks: Like twins, when it comes to rankings

It seems like a weekly occurrence that Minneapolis gets swathed with praise for its multitude of parks. The latest report to do so comes from the Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit focused on land conservation.

Here are some highlights:

• The city ranked first in total parkland as a percentage of city land for cities with intermediate-high population density.

• It was second nationally in the number of ball diamonds per resident and first nationally in the number of tennis courts
per resident.

• Lake Harriet and the Lyndale Park Gardens ranked 30th in the list of most-visited city parks in the country.

And here’s some news:

• While Minneapolis was first, St. Paul came in a close second in total parkland as a percentage of city land for cities with intermediate-high population density.

• In total parkland per 1,000 residents, St. Paul topped Minneapolis, coming in at first place.

• St. Paul ranked third nationally in the amount of park spending per person, with $224. Minneapolis ranked eighth, with $151.

For the complete report, go to www.tpl.org/cityparkfacts.

Parks update

Park Board accused of Northstar delay

Is the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board holding up the high-profile, heavily funded Northstar Commuter Rail?

According to a construction company involved, the answer is yes. But Park Board staff was largely unaware of their having done so because a permit request they rejected — what’s argued to be the holdup’s cause — never mentioned the project.

The issue originated with Lunda Construction, which was hired by Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway to replace a bridge on the east side of Nicollet Island that carries a small portion of its railway. To get access to the bridge, Lunda said they need to use a portion of park property to build a temporary riprap work road over which to transport heavy construction equipment.

Lunda filed the ultimately denied permit request with the Park Board on June 2, hoping to begin work by June 16.

The parkland in question isn’t the prettiest property. Judd Rietkerk, the Park Board’s director of planning, said it mostly is used as overflow parking.

Still, parkland rules apply, and Liz Van Zomeren, the Park Board’s real estate investigator, said Lunda’s proposal isn’t in the best interest of the park system.

Rietkerk said it wouldn’t be as big of an issue if Lunda were offering more than just to repair what it damages. In exchange for allowing non-park use of the land, he said he asked the construction company to return the property in better condition than what it’s currently in, a request Lunda rejected.

“I don’t think we’re trying to be unjust,” Rietkerk said.

After hearing their permit was rejected, Lunda sent a representative to the Park Board’s June 18 meeting. That was the first time Van Zomeren and Rietkerk heard the request’s relationship with the Northstar Commuter Rail, a federally and state-funded railway project that will link Minneapolis to Big Lake, Minn.

The permit request only mentions the bridge’s reconstruction being a part of BNSF Railway’s “general maintenance program.”

“The [Park Board] is the only agency holding up this project,” Lunda’s Bruce Bartelt said at the meeting, adding that if access to the parkland isn’t granted, the entire Northstar railway could be in jeopardy.

There has been no communication between the two sides since the meeting. A BNSF spokesman said the company is “simply seeking clarification,” hoping to get an answer within days.

But a week after the meeting, Rietkerk still hadn’t heard from either Lunda or BNSF. “I’d like to just hear from them that they want to talk about it,” he said.

Stinson talk dominates Grand Rounds hearings

Many residents of or near Stinson Parkway are unhappy with the current form of the plan to fill in the Missing Link of the Grand Rounds Scenic Byway System. That much was emphasized at a trio of public hearings.

They were reacting to a Citizen Advisory Committee recommendation to the Park Board that included a suggestion to expand bike trials on a portion of Stinson. The widening would knock down a number of trees that currently stand on the road, and neighbors are concerned the area sees too much traffic to make it a safe common-use area for bicyclists.

Lois Kelly, who lives on Stinson, presented a petition with 519 signatures from neighbors. She said she hopes the Park Board will consider looping around Stinson.

“This is a disaster waiting to happen,” Stinson neighbor Dale Nugent told the Park Board.

The first hearing had a packed Park Board chambers, and heated words were exchanged. Attendees applauded loudly after some speakers, despite repeated requests from commissioners not to do so.

Although some speakers spoke as if the plans were set in stone, the Park Board is far from making a decision on the final route. Commissioner Bob Fine emphasized that it’s still early in the planning stages of what will be a lengthy project.

History of Minneapolis parks, now in a book

To commemorate the 125th anniversary of the Park Board — and in an effort to further raise money for the city’s green space — the Foundation for Minneapolis Parks has released a 245-page retrospective of the past one-and-a-quarter century.

“City of Parks: The Story of Minneapolis Parks,” written by David C. Smith, chronicles the birth of Minneapolis as a booming city and how the Park Board’s originators ensured nature would stick around. It tells stories of names today only seen on street and building signs and contains photos of our most popular lakes before they became public property.

“City of Parks” isn’t available at bookstores, but it can be purchased at the Park Board headquarters, 2117 W. River Road, and online at minneapolisparks.org or foundationforminneapolisparks.org.

All proceeds go toward the foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving public parks in the city.