Mpls Park Board votes to downsize Black landmark

Photo by Chris Juhn

Hiawatha Golf Course ‘compromise’ widely denounced

On February 17 the Minneapolis Parks & Recreation Board (MPRB) approved a motion to reduce the Hiawatha Golf Course in Minneapolis to nine holes in order to prepare for cost-effective water management and better flood-mitigation. Originally 18 holes, the proposed course downsizing has raised concerns among many Blacks, Indigenous, and other People of Color in the Twin Cities’ community—especially Black golfers.

The Save Hiawatha 18 committee, a group of local golfers dedicated to preserving the course as 18 holes, has steadily worked to hold the Park Board accountable for initial plans to close the prized landmark. They attended years of Community Advisory Committee (CAC) meetings seeking to educate the community and the Park Board about the rich culture of the Hiawatha Golf Course. Their website provides resources for following their progress and obtaining lawn signs in support of saving the golf course’s original layout.

Related Story: Historic Black landmark in jeopardy

In 2020, the Park Board amended their original plan from March 2015 to shut down the golf course, deciding to restructure the entire course to avoid closure, known as the Master Plan for the Nokomis-Hiawatha Regional Park Area. This plan would eliminate the existing 18 holes and reconstruct nine new holes to maintain the current flood plain and avoid pushing future flood waters to neighboring homes.

However, such a change to the plan once brought concerns of increased flooding and park congestion; it now raises additional concerns about the erasure of a rich culture and community history. Who gets to decide what remains and what goes?

The course opened in 1934 in South Minneapolis’ Standish-Ericsson neighborhood. When White-owned golf tourneys did not allow Black golfers to play, the players began to host their own events, including one at Hiawatha Golf Course. This has extended into years of Black golfers finding a home at the course, including a visit from the famed Tiger Woods in the 1990s.

Tyler Pederson, the MPRB design project manager, presented the master plan at the February 17 MPRB meeting. He said that the board had an obligation to ecology along with preservation, conservation and restoration. The current course downsizing issue extends beyond the number of holes as it adds more pressure on the MPRB to listen to the concerns of the Black community. Pederson referred to efforts to include these responsibilities in the plan, centering it on honoring Black history and hiring more people of color at courses.

Discussing how the board got to this point, Pederson added, “We had nine public meetings, dozens of email updates, four surveys, and several in-person meetings. A video presentation of the plan was viewed by more than 2,800 people.”

There are detailed plans on the MPRB website regarding the overall master plan, which is expected to take years to fully implement. According to the master plan, the project has an estimated cost of $43 million.

Pederson acknowledged that there is much more work to be done, calling the master plan a starting point. “It’s a really good compromise,” stated CAC chair David Kaplan. Many did not share his sentiments.

The February 17 board meeting provided some time for members of the public to speak.   Charles Rodgers, a Save Hiawatha 18 organizer, said, “This board has some racial problems. It is a slap in the face for six White commissioners to decide what Black history is important. Your plan just doesn’t make any sense.”

Commissioner Londel French expressed disappointment that people seemed more concerned about Mother Nature, questioning where their concerns are for Black and Brown lives. “It’s really odd that now we want to talk about the environment and Mother Nature and do the right thing. But for years we haven’t done the right thing for Black folks, we haven’t done the right thing for Indigenous folks, but now we want to do the right thing.”

3 Comments on “Mpls Park Board votes to downsize Black landmark”

  1. When our foursome played every weekend at Hiawatha, we didn’t know any about the course history. What I have been learning in the last few years about the history makes me at little proud that we discovered it was such a great , affordable place. We just new it was a great course and gathering place for us. Learning more about the history, and remembering the great times we had playing and socializing there is bittersweet. The Park Board giveth, and the Park Board taketh away, I guess.

  2. Commissioner French is missing the point completely when he says Save 18 organizers are more concerned with Mother Nature than “doing the right thing”. It’s about white people continuing to make decisions that have a negative impact on BlPOC and justifying it with code language.

  3. The Minneapolis Parks Board is REQUIRED to change the management of the golf course because they’ve been in violation for years for pumping millions of gallons of water out of a golf course that was basically built on a swamp. They’ve been paying fines and are in trouble with federal oversight agencies.
    The proposal that came out in February is trying very hard to make everyone happy: to honor the history of black golfing, to keep pollution out of Minnehaha Creek, to provide more gathering spaces for the community, to make a better winter sports facility for the Southside. It’s not perfect, but it sure does seem to be trying to be all the things to all the people.
    If you take a minute to glance at the proposal (There’s a link in the article) you’ll see that honoring and educating people about the history of Hiawatha as the Black golf course in the cities is near the top of the list. Preventing flooding in the houses is on low ground near the north west corner of the park is also a priority.
    Making the space more usable for a broader cross-section of Minneapolis residence is the main goal here. Rather than a couple dozen people a day who can afford to buy golf equipment and spiky shoes and pay greens fees, hundreds of people will be able to use this land at any given time.
    Instead of walking in the neighborhood and looking resentfully at that fence keeping almost 200 acres of open land away from the public, I wish for a day when it could be open to the all the people who live in this city.

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