Compromises reached in Southwest parks plan

Southwest Service Area Master Plan CAC
The Southwest Service Area Master Plan CAC was able to reach a compromise that will return full-court basketball to Mueller Park in The Wedge. Photo by Andrew Hazzard

The final meeting of a group of community members helping plan the future of 43 neighborhood parks in Southwest Minneapolis was marked by compromise, a fitting end to a process where several interest groups lobbied to realize their conflicting desires.

The community action committee (CAC) charged with approving a Southwest Service Area Master Plan for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board held its 16th and final meeting Oct. 7, reaching consensus on design recommendations for all local parks and finding compromise on issues that had dogged the process for months, like the balance between diamond and field sport facilities and full court basketball at Mueller Park.

“The biggest challenge people wrestled with, to a person, was how to reconcile different wants with limited resources,” said Brian Nalezny, an East Harriet resident who chaired the Southwest CAC.

Courts and diamonds

At the final meeting, the CAC approved plans to distribute diamond and field sport facilities at four large parks in Southwest: Armatage, Kenny, Linden Hills and Pershing Field. 

  • Armatage Park will be dedicated to diamond sports with batting cages, pitching mounds, one standard high school diamond and three multi-use diamonds for baseball, softball or kickball. 
  • Kenny Park will focus on field sports with plans for two large multi-use turf fields.
  • Linden Hills Park will hold a premier, fenced-in diamond for high school softball, a smaller diamond, one large field and three medium-sized fields. (The fields are planned to overlap with outfield space.) 
  • Pershing Field Park will have two multi-use diamonds, one large field and one smaller field. The park will also add batting cages and pitching mounds.

Mueller Park in Lowry Hill East is relatively small but has been a big source of debate throughout the CAC process, with disagreements generally falling along age lines. Area CAC member Katie Jones had pushed for full-court basketball, citing the young demographics in the area. Some nearby park residents and the Friends of Mueller Park group had advocated for maintaining the current half-court basketball to avoid losing more natural areas. The park formerly had a full-court basketball area that was cut in half in the late 1990s. Longtime residents said the court attracted bad crowds and noise, which younger people throughout the CAC process have labeled as generalizations steeped in racism.

Ultimately, the CAC approved a design with a smaller, 65-by-50-foot full-court basketball area, which will ensure no nearby mature trees are felled.

Nature vs. recreation

A recurring debate throughout the process was natural versus recreation space. Many members of the public attending meetings questioned the need for amenities and favored nature areas.  

Design elements such as removing paved surfaces along two blocks of The Mall in Uptown and adding pollinator gardens throughout neighborhood parks should have a positive environmental impact, said Colleen O’Dell, the MPRB project manager for the Southwest Parks Plan. CAC members pointed to efforts to improve the water quality of Spring Lake at The Parade in Kenwood as an example of park design benefiting the environment. 

“The parks are the first-line defense for climate resilience, and I think this CAC did a good job of respecting that,” O’Dell said.

When planning the future designs of 43 parks, CAC members heard from people supporting many activities. Finding a balance between nature and recreation, between field sports and diamond sports, between tennis and pickleball provided constant debates throughout the process. O’Dell said the CAC admirably fulfilled its responsibility to learn about the area’s parks and hear from invested parties.

“They were all open to different groups,” she said.

O’Dell said the do-it-yourself skatepark at the 28th Street Tot Lot, the amount of pollinator gardens included throughout the parks and the decision to focus on diamond sports in Armatage and field sports at Kenny were some of her favorite design elements in the plan.

Next steps 

The CAC-approved designs are not the final master plan. Their designs are currently being compiled into a final report, which will be posted for a 45-day public comment period in November, O’Dell said. There will be a public hearing before commissioners vote on whether to approve the plan. Changes can be made by planners or commissioners in response to public comments.

Designs approved in the master plan will be implemented over a 20-year period, according to each individual park’s position in the MPRB equity matrix for capital improvements, which ranks parks for renovation money based on the socio-economic status of the area and repair needs. A cost estimate for all the design elements in the plan will be included in the final report. Money for the improvements generally comes from the Park Board’s 20-year fund, donations and grants.