Winter sports center for Theodore Wirth moves forward

Park commissioners are poised to finalize agreements for a new sports center.

Image courtesy of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board

After months of planning, park commissioners have given preliminary approval for a proposed winter sports and outdoor recreation center at Theodore Wirth Regional Park.

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board’s Administration & Finance Committee approved several agreements with the Loppet Foundation to allow the nonprofit to build and operate a new multi-purpose building and then donate it back to the board. The full board is expected to vote on the project later this month.

The board approved schematic designs for the 14,000-square-foot building last summer that would serve as an epicenter for cross-country skiers, mountain bikers, snowboarders and par 3 golfers to buy and rent equipment, use locker rooms and refuel at a café. The building, which the Loppet is calling The Trailhead, would replace a small golf clubhouse and occupy the site of the course’s last two holes.

Beyond the recreation center, the proposed project would add about four miles of mountain bike event trails with a learning area and untangle ski trails from the 18-hole golf course in order to reduce conflicts. The board also plans to build a 30-stall and a 100-stall parking lot, according to previous plans.

The cost to build the center and related utility services are roughly $5.3 million, of which the Loppet has raised more than $3.8 million so far. The foundation is proposing to recognize donors by naming features of the center via plaques and trail map listings. So far, the foundation has identified the building’s 300-square-foot conference room, an overlook and trail segments for naming opportunities.

Wirth AWC exterior1

The Loppet intends to host the Masters World Cup cross-country skiing event at the center in January or February of 2018. It would require an expansion of the park’s ski loop to 12.5 kilometers, four more than it is now, which the board is considering making permanent. The event, estimated to bring in about 1,200 athletes, has never been held in a major city in North America.

For the board’s part of the project, it intends to use reserves from its Enterprise Fund and state and Metropolitan Council bonds for funding. The Park Board had looked to the Legislature for 2017 regional parks funding for site work, but lawmakers haven’t appropriated the money. The board expects to award a contract for construction of site improvements in early September and wrap up that work by next spring, if not by the end of the year.

As part of its agreements, the Loppet would be the center’s primary operator and programmer, and would take on maintenance of mountain bike and ski trails. The foundation would pay rent equal to 18 percent of its net income annually on top of a lump sum of $6,500, which would increase $1,000 every ten years of the lease. To cover long-term maintenance, Assistant Superintend Michael Schroeder said the foundation would pay $20,000 a year in preparation for when they have to repair or replace the facility down the line.

It would also provide operating staff for the par-3 course, which would be headquartered in the building. Despite the additional support, Superintended Jayne Miller said the 10 maintenance staff and parkkeepers at Wirth would be assigned other tasks during the winter. She even plans to add a staff person in the 2017 budget.

Wirth AWC interior

The board says the project would deliver programming above and beyond what either entity could provide by itself.

“I think we need to take this chance, just like we needed to take the chance at Tin Fish, the chance at Sea Salt [Eatery] to give us a chance to get the Park Board operating efficiently in a way the taxpayers get the best bang for their buck,” said Commissioner Liz Wielinski (District 1).

President John Erwin lauded the foundation for its donation.

“You singlehandedly have added a great new asset to the Minneapolis park system,” he said.

If the board approves the agreements at its Aug. 17 meeting, the Loppet anticipates beginning construction later this month with a completion of the building in early 2017.

“The public-private partnership between the Loppet Foundation and the MPRB leverages our respective strengths and creates opportunities for area residents to get outside and active in the heart of the city,” said John Munger, the foundation’s executive director, in a statement. “We are excited to see The Trailhead come to fruition.”


Images courtesy of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board