Parks update

Milfoil remains steady issue for Park Board

Eurasian water milfoil is out in full force this year. Just ask Bob Fine, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board commissioner.

He’s used to fielding a lot of phone calls and e-mails from his constituency, but he said he’s been surprised at how dominant the topic of milfoil has been this summer. While he hears about the discomfort the invasive underwater plant species brings every year, Fine said that this year, in particular, people in the parks’ sixth district are asking about it a lot.

That doesn’t mean the situation is getting worse, according to Park Board staff.

It makes sense to hear people talking milfoil in August, said Mike Schmidt, the Park Board’s general manager of operations and recreation.

“This is the worst time of year,” Schmidt said, “but I would not characterize things as worse than before. We don’t have a milfoil explosion any worse than in any of the past dozen years.”

Eurasian water milfoil presents a bit of a conundrum for parks staff. On one hand, it’s a real nuisance to swimmers and grows relentlessly. On the other, some aquatic species live off the plant, and the Department of Natural Resources does not allow its complete removal.

“It’s fish habitat, so we can’t get rid of it,” Fine said. “We’d like to.”

The Park Board has been dealing with the issue through eight-hours-a-day, five-days-a-week harvesting. Schmidt said about 145 cubic yards of material are harvested every week. The main focus is on recreation areas such as beaches, followed by boat docks, he said.

Harvesting is expected to continue through Labor Day.

Dealing with tree stumps

Another issue on Southwest residents’ minds, Commissioner Bob Fine said, is that of tree stumps.

Chances are that if you’ve been waiting years for a stump to be removed from your yard, so has your neighbor. That’s because the Park Board’s Forestry Department removes stumps by neighborhood. (East Harriet and East Calhoun are current targets.)

Forestry Director Ralph Sievert said that, given the about $300,000 budgeted annually for stump removal, working by neighborhood is the fairest way to get the job done.

“I think we’re holding our own fairly well,” he said.

That’s despite a big gap between the number of stumps and how many are getting removed. Sievert said at a Park Board meeting in May that he expects about 368,000 stumps to be left behind in the city at the end of 2008. Only about 2,200 stumps are scheduled for grinding this year.

While the cash-strapped status of the Park Board is part of the reason for the gap, Sievert said, another part is policy. Commissioner Tracy Nordstrom said the Board emphasizes replanting over removal.

Feasibility study to start soon for shuttered bridge

LYNNHURST — A feasibility study for the repair of a closed pedestrian bridge over Minnehaha Creek is expected to begin shortly and be done by the end of the year, according to the city’s director of transportation maintenance and repair.

Mike Kennedy said the city’s Public Works Department and the Park Board have a consultant picked. The parties most recently have been working out the finer details of what will be included in the study, such as a hazardous material survey, important because of the bridge’s age, Kennedy said.

A final proposal for the study is expected around the end of the month, after which work can begin. Kennedy said he anticipates the Park Board will have the findings before year’s end.

The city’s bridge department has told the Park Board that repairing the bridge could cost at least $200,000. While that’s less expensive than replacing the bridge — which would cost at least $500,000 — the Park Board does not have money budgeted for the project. An alternative funding source has yet to be located, although Mayor R.T. Rybak  requested some city money be earmarked in his 2009 budget proposal. The bridge, by Bryant Avenue, was shuttered in April.

5K to benefit band shell

EAST HARRIET — The nonprofit People for Parks once again will be raising money for the Lake Harriet band shell with a 5K around the lake.

Check-in for the run/walk, billed as a family event, will start at 10:30 a.m. Sept. 7. The race will start 11 a.m. Advance registration costs $20 for adults and $15 for children. On race day, the entry fee will be $25.

Register at www.active.com, keyword “bandshell.” For more information, go to www.peopleforparks.net.

Parks update

With donation change, Lowe’s signs no longer required

A $90,000 donation from Lowe’s — an unsolicited offer that ignited a flurry of comments and criticism for proposed signage it would bring into parks — is changing shape.

Park Board officials said the hardware store chain, after continued negotiations with Minneapolis and other cities to which it’s donating, has all but decided to drop the idea of signing contracts. Instead, Lowe’s is considering sending its donation in the form of gift cards, leaving the systems in charge of their own purchases, said Michelle Kellogg, grants coordinator with the Park Board.

The original proposal would have had Lowe’s representatives much more hands on.

“It just got to be more complicated,” Kellogg said.

The lack of a contract would have several implications for the Park Board’s plans with the donation, including taking away a signage requirement. Talk of 11-inch by 17-inch indoor signs and 6-foot by 2-foot outdoor banners proclaiming “This park brought to you by Lowe’s” created a dustup from constituents concerned about putting advertising in the city’s parks.

Parks General Manager Don Siggelkow said to expect the signs to change, although he wouldn’t say there would be no visual recognition of Lowe’s help.

“Of course, we’re going to thank them,” Kellogg said when asked about the signs. Neither she nor Siggelkow yet knew what form the recognition would take.

The Park Board also would no longer be required to only spend the money on the six parks Lowe’s picked for its initial proposal — although Kellogg said Lowe’s would still prefer the focus to stay there. Those parks include Loring, Parade and Harrison parks.

Siggelkow said he didn’t foresee that changing much, but he added that a greater portion of the donation might be funneled toward Parade Park from Loring Park.

Lowe’s spokeswoman Maureen Rich had no comment.

CPED delivers stepping-stone report on dedication fee

The city needs more time to investigate a park dedication fee.

That’s the conclusion laid out in a report presented on July 15 to the City Council’s Community Development Committee by a work group made up of members of the Department of Community Planning and Economic Development (CPED) and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.

The fee would be a charge to new residential and commercial developments within the city. It would be dedicated to building or upgrading parks near those projects and is considered by some at the Park Board to be key in relieving some of its financial stress.

While the Legislature gave its approval for a fee in 2005 and the Park Board signed on last July, the City Council has moved slower because of a number of concerns. Critical among those is the impact it would have in relation to the city’s efforts with affordable housing.

While the Park Board has said projects that would contain only affordable units would be exempt from paying a fee, things get murky with projects where only a percentage of housing would be affordable, such as those assisted by the city.

The work group, as chronicled in its report, took a sampling of five Twin Cities suburbs and several major cities throughout the country that have forms of a park dedication fee. None of the suburbs have a policy exempting affordable housing, while Portland, Ore., for example, doesn’t charge any project that involves low-income housing.

The report also included a letter from Mary Bujold, president of real estate research company Maxfield Research, who wrote that a park dedication fee could increase the amount of money the city would have to pay on housing projects it subsidizes. If a fee ordinance were to apply to those projects, developers would have to pay more money up front, Bujold wrote, or the city would have to increase its subsidy — essentially drawing from city money to pay for parks.

The report is far from being a final verdict on a dedication fee, CPED Deputy Director Chuck Lutz said. Work continues on finalizing minute and major details, from the affordable housing issue to how much the fee would cost.

“There’s still a lot to be done,” he said. The work group plans on meeting every other week, Lutz said. No date is set for them to report back to the Council.

Click here for the park dedication fee report presented to the City Council’s Community Development Committee on July 15.

Commissioner seeking House seat

Park Board Commissioner Jon Olson has filed to run for the state House of Representatives.

Olson, who was the previous Board president and represents the parks’ 2nd District — essentially, North Minneapolis — will face Joe Mullery in the District 58A DFL primary on Sept. 9.

If Olson were elected to the House, the Park Board would appoint a replacement for the remainder of his term, which ends Dec. 31, 2009.

Lake Harriet concert finale back on

The Minnesota Orchestra will perform at the Lake Harriet Band Shell this year, thanks to a last-minute donation by Target.

The orchestra had announced in July it would cancel its Sept. 14 performance, which would have been the first time since 2002 that the orchestra had not been at the band shell. Shortly afterward, however, Target offered to sponsor the concert.

As originally planned, the orchestra will take the stage at 3 p.m. Orchestra music director Osmo Vänskä will conduct the free performance.