Parks update // Park Board eyeing more land along upper riverfront

Minneapolis Park Board members are giving staff more tools to acquire land along the river north of downtown, including money and bargaining directives.

On Jan. 4, the Park Board approved a measure that allows staff to enter into non-binding letters of intent with property owners. Attorney Brian Rice told commissioners that there have been properties on the market but staff needs a strategy for acquiring them.

“In your last two budgets, you’ve appropriated funds to do land acquisitions, particularly in the Above the Falls master plan,” he said. “There have been some properties that are on the market or could become on the market.”

Rice was alluding to $1 million the Park Board has budgeted for riverfront development in 2012. The board also plans to continue setting aside $1 million annually through 2015. 

Jennifer Ringold, who is in charge of citywide planning for the Park Board, said in mid-January that no real estate deal was in place. 

The Park Board has ambitious plans for the upper riverfront north of Plymouth Avenue that includes adding more parks and trails to the area.

Staff has applied for a $1 million grant from the federal Transportation Enhancement Program to build bike and pedestrian trails on the east side of the river. In February, the Met Council will release its rankings for which metro projects will get priority when funding becomes available.

Plans for that potential trail between Plymouth Avenue and the Burlington Northern Railroad bridge would require the Park Board to acquire some land, though much of it is already owned by the Park Board or has been made available through private owners granting easements, Ringold said.

If Park Board staff draws up a preliminary purchase agreement, it would need six of nine Park Board commissioners to approve of a land purchase.

Erwin re-elected board president

John Erwin will serve as Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board President for another year after board members unanimously voted to give him a third term on Jan. 3.

He will not, however, be joined by Annie Young as vice president. The board instead chose Liz Wielinski (District 1) as vice president.

Young was absent from the Park Board’s annual meeting. Erwin said Young fell ill and was in the hospital during the meeting. He said she was recovering quickly and expected her back in a week or two.

Wielinski is serving in her first term on the Park Board after having been active in Park Watch, a watchdog group that was critical of previous Park Boards.

The Park Board voted to keep Rice as attorney and Karen Robinson as secretary for another year.

A blast of winter helps recreation

After a series of warm days in late December and early January, a cold blast finally reached Minneapolis on Jan. 11, allowing Park Board crews to being opening ice rinks.

While the Park Board had only been able to keep four or five rinks open in the beginning of winter, by mid January it had opened 14 of 22 Minneapolis rinks.

On Jan. 7, the Park Board finally opened its tubing hill at Wirth Park, and snowmaking has continued as crews make up for warm temperatures.

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