Since the MSR’s last story, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board MPRB met on Sept. 8 and voted 6-3 to approve its Master Plan to redesign the Hiawatha Golf Course from 18 to 9 holes. But the action still has not deterred its loudest critics in the African American community.
In fact, the fight is still on. “We are in the process of having Hiawatha placed on the National Registry, and the Park Board will no longer be able to make changes because we will be listed on the National Registry as an 18-hole golf course. The Bronze Foundation has already submitted the application to the state,” explained Darwin Dean, president of the Bronze Foundation.
“Once the application passes from the state to federal level, we can then start applying for federal grants to fund our engineering project and our Alternative Six plan.”
But until the Bronze Foundation reaches that stage, all funds are paid from private money. “We have to foot the bill ourselves to continue to wage this war. It’s indeed a process, but not cheap. But these are professionals that we need to develop our Alternative Six plan and help us to get Hiawatha on the National Registry,” said Dean.
“So, we are asking supporters as a nonprofit, to go to our website www.bronzefoundation.org and please donate. This is about a lot more than just golf.”
Park Board Superintendent Al Bangoura released a press release shortly after the vote stating that the use of the course is still available as 18-holes until the funding is secured for the projected redesign. The MSR reached out to several members of the Park Board, but they did not reply by press time.
The Park Board’s decision to redesign the historic golf course seems off the mark to Dean, as he explained a litany of reasons why the vote is wrong. “In 1967, when that golf course flooded, none of the surrounding houses were affected. In 1985, none of the surrounding houses were flooded.
“In 2014, when the Hiawatha Golf Course flooded, hardly any homes near the flooded course were extensively damaged—and there is a reason for that,” explained Dean. “The golf course itself is designed to pull water in from several areas.
“The second thing I want to say about the recent decision,” Dean continued, “is the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board does not have a mandate to handle water. And although water is not part of their mandate, they took it upon themselves to say, ‘We are going to fix that problem.’
“Water issues fall under the authority of the DNR and other agencies, but not MPRB. I honestly believe they threw in the water issue with the intent to grab the land,” said Dean.
“Now what the Park Board plans to do is flood out the Back 9. Now think about this—when they do that…that type of heavy rainfall comes every 15-20 years. If they have destroyed the current irrigation system, when that record rainfall comes, they will effectively have paved the way for 500 homes in the area to have flooded basements.”
As described in earlier reporting, the Park Board plans to flood half of it the Back 9, add a dog park, a BMX bike area, and a putt-putt area. And sadly, said Dean, “The newly-designed Park Board golf course was not designed by a golf course designer—meaning that design is not legitimate. It is something they rushed out to show the public that they already had an alternative 9-hole plan. But it wasn’t designed by a golf course architect.”
Another issue is with the MPRB’s urgency to move forth with the redesign. A recent MPRB release outlines that Hiawatha Park communities were invited to open events, thus implying there was a fair and open vetting of the matter with community input.
“The release left out one important fact—people of color have used this park since it first opened, and their input appears to have carried the least weight in this vetting process,” lamented Dean.
“Some of us have known that the Park Board has been on a mission to redesign or shut down the course since 2014. But let’s look at this for what it is: There are specific people on the Park Board who say they want to make things better at Hiawatha Park. But yet their Master Plan does not include cleaning up Lake Hiawatha. The lake is so unclean that I would not eat fish from there, and no one should be swimming in that lake.” warned Dean.
“If the board wants to start somewhere, that’s where they should begin. But if they flood out the Back 9 it will become a marshland as it was many years ago before it became Hiawatha Park.”
The MSR also reached out to the mayor’s office to determine his stance on the issue. Through his Communications Director Katie Lauer, Mayor Frey released this statement: “Mayor Frey did not veto the plan nor did he sign the action. Per Park Board rules, if he does not sign an action, the action is approved by default.
“The mayor chose to not sign the action out of respect for the Black golfing community which has raised concerns about the historic meaning of the course. So, no practical difference in him not signing it – it will still be approved. He is not vetoing it.”
The mayor’s non-action is purely symbolic, as it does nothing to help the cause of African Americans who are trying to halt or slow the proposed redesign of Hiawatha Golf Course.
The MSR will continue to follow this story as it develops.
This story was updated on Sept. 22, 2022, to add a statement from Mayor Jacob Frey.
Al Brown is a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.