Committee members show little interest in new concessions building at Lake Harriet

After four meetings mostly spent deciding how to survey others, members of a citizens’ advisory committee investigating the future of concessions at Lake Harriet have finally weighed in with some opinions of their own. One thing appears clear: Most committee members currently have little interest in adding a new concessions building.

Park Board staff earlier this year proposed putting a seafood restaurant inside the Lake Harriet refectory while moving popcorn and hot dog sales to a building that would be constructed nearby. General Manager Don Siggelkow said there would be no way that the refectory, in its current condition, could house both a seafood restaurant and popcorn and hot dog concessions. The hexagon shape of the building, for example, makes it a challenge to work in.

But several committee members said there just doesn’t appear to be much support for a new building.

Groups such as the Lake Harriet Yacht Club sent letters to the committee in which they said they were concerned about access to the lake, more congestion and taking away open space. At a July 30 community meeting hosted by nearby neighborhoods, the majority of about 100 attendees said they didn’t like the idea of a new building because of how it could interact with the current picnic- and family-friendly feel of Lake Harriet.

“We could cause a very large shift in what is now a beautiful park,” committee member Joel Chechik said.

Others disliked the Park Board’s earlier proposed location for the new building, atop a flowerbed behind the band shell.

“Is there a world where anybody here wants to put a building on a tulip bed?” committee member Bruce Manning said, while others shook their heads.

Removing the flowerbed, committee member John Finlayson said, “just doesn’t do it for me.”

At the same time, committee members were intrigued by results from a survey of 1,103 random users of Lake Harriet that showed some interest in an expanded menu at the refectory. Almost 40 percent of those surveyed said they would come to the lake more often if the menu were expanded, and about 51 percent said they would spend more money.

Since Park Board staff’s proposal for menu changes originated from an interest in more revenue for the cash-strapped parks — and because Tin Fish and Sea Salt Seafood Eatery at Lake Calhoun and Minnehaha Falls, respectively, have been successful moneymakers — committee members said they were inclined to support an expanded menu. But they added that the Park Board should try to do it within the existing refectory, whether that means renovating or partially expanding the building or hiring a consultant to find more efficient use for the current space.

The committee asked Siggelkow to have Park Board staff do more research on what’s possible at the current building. Results from that work should weigh in on whatever recommendations the committee will make to the Park Board — recommendations that are expected to be finalized at the committee’s next meeting. A date for that meeting has not yet been finalized, but Chairman Matt Perry said it would likely be on either Sept. 24 or Sept. 28.

In other committee news, the group welcomed a new member: Patty Selly of East Harriet. Selly replaced Sarah Harris, who left the committee in July because of other obligations.

For more information about the committee’s work, click here.