Plan approved to remap Southwest’s parks

Fate of The Mall up in the air

The Mall in Uptown
The Southwest Service Area Master Plan has largely been approved, but commissioners were unable to reach a decision on the future of The Mall in Uptown, which would see its western blocks naturalized under the proposed design. Photo by Andrew Hazzard

The Park Board has passed a plan mapping out the future of Southwest Minneapolis’ neighborhood parks but has yet to resolve one of its most contested aspects.

Park Board commissioners approved designs for 41 of the 42 parks in the Southwest Service Area Master Plan on Oct. 21, but their vote left the future of The Mall in Uptown undetermined.

More than two years went into developing the plan, including hours of community outreach and debate among the Community Advisory Committee (CAC). The plan for The Mall in Uptown was among the most contested topics. The CAC recommended a design that would have naturalized the western two blocks of the street nearest Lake of the Isles, removing pavement and adding grass and trees; the roadway east of Humboldt Avenue would have been converted to a shared-use “woonerf” street that allows vehicle access. Today, the roadway is well-used by nearby apartment residents for street parking, something many residents objected to losing. Proponents of the design say naturalizing the space will make it more of a true park and help the city combat climate change.

When the Park Board voted on the master plan, Commissioner Brad Bourn (District 6) divided the motion into three parts, a move that isolated votes on two controversial park designs at The Mall and King’s Highway from the rest of the plan. Commissioner Meg Forney (At Large) proposed an amendment to retain the current roadway layout of The Mall, which failed to pass on a 4-4 vote with Commissioner Kale Severson (District 2) absent. Forney was joined by Bourn, Londel French (At Large), and AK Hassan (District 3) in opposing the naturalized plan. Commissioners opted to table The Mall plan until Severson could participate to break the tie.

Park Board President Jono Cowgill said it would be “a big disappointment” for his constituents in Uptown for commissioners to reject the CAC recommendation. Park planners said they felt asking for more residential input would be unlikely to give commissioners clarity on where the public stands.

“I think additional community engagement is not going to bring a different solution because folks are where they are with this issue,” said Adam Arvidson, director of strategic planning.

Commissioners opted to go against the CAC’s recommendation for King’s Highway, voting down the proposed bike path on the west side of the road between Lake Harriet and West 36th Street. In recent weeks, there had been a push from some residents who feared the plan would result in up to 60 mature trees being cut down to make space for converting the sidewalk into a wider, shared-use trail. Planning staff said the design would try to avoid tree loss and disagreed with the assessment, though the Park Board’s forestry department had expressed concern with the plan. Only Cowgill and Commissioner Chris Meyer voted to keep the bike route.

Ultimately the master plan was approved on a 7-1 vote with Meyer dissenting.

“I’m really excited to move forward on this plan,” said Bourn, who represents much of the Southwest area.

The plan will bring several new features to Southwest parks, including the city’s first public clay tennis courts at Waveland Triangle, new dedicated pickleball courts at Kenwood and Martin Luther King Jr. parks and a first-in-the-system curling facility at The Parade. Three new skateboarding parks and spots are called for at the 28th Street Tot Lot, Painter Park and Smith Triangle. Southwest is scheduled to get its first bicycle skills courses at The Parade and MLK Park. Full-court basketball is coming to Armatage, Clinton Field, Kenwood, Pershing Field, Mueller and Stevens Square. Mixed-use, multiple sport courts that can be used for basketball, hockey or futsal are planned at Armatage, Clinton Field, Kenny, MLK, Windom South and Whittier.

Playground spaces will be upgraded throughout the area under the plan, with more nature-based play and bouldering elements at parks like Alcott Triangle, Fuller, Gladstone Triangle, Mueller, Linden Hills, Lynnhurst, Rustic Lodge, Stevens Square, Waveland Triangle, Windom South and Whittier.

The master plan calls for more rain gardens and pollinator-friendly spaces across the service area.

Those proposals total an estimated $137 million and would be implemented over 20-30 years. Funding would come from the Park Board’s typical capital improvement plan; the 20-year Neighborhood Parks Plan, approved by voters in 2016 to provide additional investment to city parks through 2037; and outside grants and partnerships. Park improvements are generally scheduled based on the Park Board’s equity matrix, which factors in income levels, demographics and the number of years since the property last received funding.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, passage of the Southwest Parks Plan was delayed and there are improvement projects planned at Southwest parks that have been awaiting approval to move forward.

“I’m hopeful this plan when passed will lead to some speedy implementation,” Cowgill said.