Several ideas for park improvements currently under review
The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) is taking public comments now until October 27 on proposed changes to its 31 North Minneapolis neighborhood parks. An extensive process of community involvement has preceded this public comment phase, and in a few parks the proposed improvements have generated some spirited debate. None, however, have been as controversial as the dome proposed for North Commons.
New plans for all city parks
The Northside’s 31 parks and three regional trails make up MPRB’s North Service Area, which is bordered north of Interstate 394 and west of the Mississippi River, one of five service areas in the Minneapolis Park Board system.
Since 2016, “a multi-year effort [has been underway] to create new plans for all the neighborhood parks in the city,” MPRB Project Manager Adam Arvidson told the MSR. He said that asking community residents what they want for their parks is something that has never been done “in the entire 100-plus-year history of the Park Board.
There was some reorganization of the parks” in the 1960s and 1970s, but Arvidson said, “The city is a lot different than it was in the ’60s and ’70s — how do we transform these parks in the next 30-40 years to better meet the needs of the community? We haven’t asked that question in a real long time.”
A 2016 agreement between the MPRB and the City of Minneapolis provides money annually for neighborhood parks until 2037. As a result, “There is going to be significantly more funding available for rehabilitation of park facilities and capital investment,” Arvidson said.
Community Advisory Committees (CAC), whose members were appointed by the Park Board commissioners, were established as well to meet with community residents and eventually create and submit “Master Plans.” The 18-month process, which involved listening sessions, community meetings, and staffing booths at various public events, has resulted in the North Service Area Master Plan currently open to public comments, noted Arvidson.
North Commons plan draws flak
The proposed changes for North Commons Park have been the most contentious, mainly focused around a proposed sports dome that would house a new multi-use field. Other controversial suggestions include refurbishing the existing play areas, building a new community center and four new sports courts, community rooms, a new amphitheater, a new indoor swimming pool, new picnic shelters, and updating the current outdoor water park.
Any major changes, especially on the park’s southern half where many trees are located, could ultimately ruin the area, opponents believe. A “Friends of North Commons” group circulated a petition with nearly 200 signatures this summer and also expressed concerns during an August meeting at the park’s center.
Longtime Northside residents Jeanne Torma and David Opp, both of whom live near the park, told the MSR that the entire process bothered them. “Number one, we were not communicated with directly. People should at least have the information that there are meetings happening,” Torma stated. “At the very least, flyers and door knocking [should have occurred].
“Number two, we don’t want a huge dome in the park. Number three, the scale of the development is too big for our park.”
“We want to protect our green space,” Opp added. “There is an overemphasis on sports… There is a lot more than sports that the park should be doing.”
Both Torma and Opp state that opposing a sports dome doesn’t make them anti-youth. They are also concerned that their protest has been characterized along racial lines.
“When you have a majority of White people who are [voicing] their opinions and concerns at these public meetings, the subtext oftentimes is a racial one,” Torma explained. “It certainly is not the case with any of the people I know who attended these meetings or the people I spoke with when taking around the petition.”
Opp added that he estimated “maybe 30 percent” of those who signed the petition were Black. The MSR also talked to several local Blacks who regularly use the park, most of whom told us they had little or no knowledge of the proposed improvements. One woman told us on the condition of anonymity, “I would hate to see a dome and lose this center.”
North Commons nonetheless is “long overdue” for major improvements, CAC member Brett Buckner said. Nearly 30 community meetings were held and “I attended every meeting,” he said in an MSR phone interview.
The Northside CAC started with 19 members, “[but] eventually only six or seven showed for the last meeting [in August],” Buckner recalled. He said he believes that most residents support the proposed sports dome, and that he doesn’t see those who are against it as anti-youth. “But I would say they are anti-progress.
“We have 11,000 kids that need a facility,” explained Buckner, saying it wouldn’t be a Northside Metrodome as some are calling it. The proposed dome “is not just for the kids, but for seniors to be able to walk around [a proposed indoor walking track] without having to worry about ice [during the winter].
“It is not just a sports facility. It will allow for an expansion of activities,” he pointed out. “The bubble only goes up from November to March. It is not a permanent thing.”
Buckner surmised that building a sports dome, which is estimated to cost $22 million, could be “an economic development opportunity where the park could start to run significant [sports] tournaments, and could help spur development along West Broadway,” which is located a couple of blocks away from North Commons.
His projection is one more reason why Torma and Opp are against a sports dome. They believe it would keep local youth away and create traffic problems because of visitors coming to the park. Buckner’s response: “This is just a planning document. There are still other processes that need to take place.”
Changes will not be sudden
Two other Northside park proposals — an “accessible pathway” at Farview Park that some fear will take away an existing sliding hill, and how to improve the parking situation at Bryn Mawr Meadows — also have drawn some criticism among area residents of the respective parks, but nothing on the scale that the North Commons plan has evoked, Arvidson noted.
“We’re hoping to bring forward the North Service Area [plan] to the Board probably in November or December after our public comment period,” Arvidson said. “We revise the document based on comments [received]” before any improvements to North Commons take place.
MPRB hopes to have all five service areas plans finalized “by mid-year of next year,” said Arvidson. “Then we will have master plans for all parks in the system. We can gradually transform our system over time. It will not happen all at once.”
The public can offer comments either in person at any Northside park or on the MPRB website, www.minneapolisparks.org.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.