The Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board unanimously voted Feb. 18 to pursue eminent domain to acquire Northeast riverfront property from Graco Inc. if the company does not negotiate an easement for a trail project.
The Park Board has had its eyes on the land since 2000 when it negotiated with Graco for an easement in exchange for more than $1 million in tax-increment financing from the city to expand its fluid system manufacturing facility in Northeast Minneapolis. If the Park Board doesn’t acquire the easement or land by May 31, it could lose a $1 million grant for the project, which would use the 1.87-acre property to build a trail from north from the Plymouth Avenue Bridge.
Now Graco is looking to negotiate the easement for a section of parkland adjacent to its facility that could become the home for a future headquarters expansion.
“To say this is a disappointment is an understatement,” said President Liz Wielinski, whose district includes Graco’s property, at the meeting Wednesday. “It’s a shame. Truly a shame.”
Graco has been interested in granting the easement since 2000, even supporting the Park Board’s grant application in 2011 when it called the trail project “nationally and regionally significant.” However, Graco spokesman Bryce Hallowell said the company has already completed the TIF requirements and is prepared to provide the easement under mutually acceptable terms.
There has also been confusion if a city staffer gave the company verbal release from the easement negotiations years ago. The Park Board’s resolution acknowledges that the negotiations were never completed due to “miscommunication” between the company, city and the board, but City Council Member Jacob Frey said he hasn’t heard of any verbal or written proof of the release.
In the Park Board’s eyes, the company promised to provide the easement when it received the TIF funding, but the company says it has never finalized the terms of the easement and isn’t obligated to provide it. In a 2000 letter to the city, Graco says while it is “prepared to grant an easement,” “the form and terms of the easement shall be reasonably satisfactory to Graco” and the Park Board.
Hallowell said the company would provide the easement in return for adjacent land on the former Scherer Brothers Lumber site, which the Park Board purchased in 2010 for $7.7 million with the goal of making a new riverfront park.
Nearly two acres of the 11.4-acre site would allow Graco to keep more of its operations in Minneapolis, including a potential headquarters expansion. Hallowell called it a “win-win” deal.
If the company could expand its campus onto this land, then the Park Board would get the easement and the city would have the increased tax base and the trail, he said.
Adjacent to the park component of the Scherer site, the Park Board owns 3.6 acres of land intended for development, according the park’s master plan. However, the boards hopes potential developments would “complement park character,” like a restaurant, which the master plan says would benefit park users.
The future park on the site just downriver of the Broadway Avenue Bridge would be part of the Above the Falls Regional Park.
Graco has grown rapidly in the past two decades, opening facilities in Rodgers in 1996 and 2014 and in Anoka in 2006. Graco’s net sales surpassed $1 billion in 2012 and it employs 2,700 people worldwide. The company manufactures lubricants, abrasives and other products for industrial use.
Under the Park Board’s resolution, it will pursue negotiations with Graco, and if that fails, it would condemn the land for the easement.
Many commissioners voiced disapproval with Graco’s terms and suggested it look to its existing land to expand, including several acres of surface parking on its Northeast campus.
“They’re greedy,” Commissioner Scott Vreeland said. “They have surface parking… There’s enough land in that location for what they want.”
Commissioner John Erwin said the trail on Graco’s land and the nearby park that would go on the Scherer site would “enhance the entire area for their employees.”
“Everyone I know in Northeast is disappointed in Graco,” he said.
For more than a decade, the Park Board has acquired numerous acres of riverfront parkland in Northeast as part of its Above the Falls Regional Park master plan and RiverFirst initiatives, which began in 2000 and 2012, respectively. The easement would allow the Park Board to extend its East Bank trail system 1,000 feet along the Mississippi River, which Wielinski said would not cause any major disturbances to Graco’s operations.
“This is an excellent opportunity for Graco to be a good community member and grant an easement without undue hardship,” she told the Journal.
Once the board deems it necessary, it has retained law firm Malkerson Gunn Martin to begin proceedings in order to purchase or condemn the land if negotiations don’t work. The eminent domain process could take several months, yet the Park Board only has about three months before the May 31 deadline, when it would lose the $1 million grant that is paying for much of the project.
“I’m afraid any action may be too late,” Wielinski said.