Harriet concession plans could be delayed for citizen input

Feeling too rushed for time, two of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board’s commissioners next week will propose the board step back and let citizens have a bigger voice in the future of the Lake Harriet concession.

In January, Park Board staff brought forward two leases: one that would bring Sea Salt Seafood Eatery to the concession and one that would have another vendor, Fun Time, pick up the tradition of selling popcorn and ice cream. Had the arrangement been approved, the Park Board would have set itself up to build a new structure, as the ice cream cooler and popcorn maker would take up more space than Sea Salt could handle.

Commissioners said they felt rushed. “It seems like it’s the cart before the horse,” Annie Young told staff.

Residents were befuddled, too. Some asked whether the parks system really needs another seafood restaurant, Young said. (A Sea Salt eatery already stands at Minnehaha Park.)

Commissioner Tracy Nordstrom said she was taken aback by the “unexpected swelling” of concerns.

“I don’t want anybody to be pissed off about this at all,” Nordstrom said.

To clean up any mess, she and Commissioner Bob Fine are expected to propose the creation of a Citizen Advisory Committee. Nordstrom said it would feature four Park Board-appointed citizens, one from City Council Member Betsy Hodges (13th Ward), one from Mayor R.T. Rybak and one from each neighborhood adjacent to Lake Harriet. Their job would be to engage residents and figure out exactly what the desire is for the Lake Harriet concession, whether that’s both a seafood restaurant and a popcorn vendor or neither.

To prevent the committee from being under any strict time pressure, Nordstrom said staff is negotiating a one-year lease with Fun Time to at least provide popcorn and ice cream this summer. (Without such an arrangement, there could be no offerings at the concession this year.)

The committee’s creation would need full board approval, which should come within the next month.