E-DEMOCRACY | Privatization at Wirth Park

UPDATED AFTER 1/16 MPRB MEETING

From: s f Date: 16:16

On July 11th, 2012, the Minneapolis Park Board voted to overturn the recommendations of the Theodore Wirth Citizens Advisory Committee and the recommendation of its own Planning Committee and shift $1.5 million in State bond funds from environmental projects at Wirth Park to building a new Welcome Center in the vicinity of the Wirth Par 3 Clubhouse.

The Welcome Center was heavily promoted by the City of Lakes Nordic Ski Foundation (dba The Loppet Foundation). The Loppet pledged to raise $3 million in private donations for Center construction and MPRB staff was directed to develop an agreement with The Loppet "to raise not less than a 2 for 1 matching amount of $3.0 million privately by December 1, 2014." The Board also directed staff to prepare a detailed park development and operations pro forma "the identifies the ability to construct the [Welcome Center] without negative MPRB budget impact."

http://tinyurl.com/ck7gvxt

The Loppet is back with a fundraising agreement and it's a doozy.

In return for raising $3,000,000, The Loppet wants a 25 year lease on the new Welcome Center and 22.5 surrounding acres. The Loppet would serve as "Developer" subletting the building to tenants like a restaurant, a bike shop, a winter sports store, offices, etc. It appears The Loppet would keep all building revenue. The Loppet would also have naming rights to the building and all interior areas. Finally, the MPRB would "credit" the Loppet's annual rent payments for 20 years, total value $3 million.

Loppet fundraising deadlines could be pushed out to mid-2015.

The Loppet would take over all MPRB winter recreation activities and related work (snow making, trail grooming, equipment rentals) at Wirth, Columbia, Gross and Hiawatha. Experienced MPRB union employees would be replaced by The Loppet. The Loppet would collect funds for event permits, x-country/tubing/snowboarding passes, equipment rentals, etc. and apparently keep these. Plus The Loppet would organize bicycle races and events similar to its x-country fundraisers. The MPRB would give the Loppet its snowmaking and trail grooming equipment and winter sports equipment inventory, a donation estimated at $200,000 or so.

It's not clear if the MPRB will provide a separate contract to pay the Loppet for maintenance work. Net losses in the winter recreation program have surpassed $200,000+ in recent years. Increased snowmaking at Wirth also has a hidden cost: it takes so long for the snow to melt that golf course openings are delayed, costing these courses $35,000-$100,000 a year. Since no financial projections have been included, it's tough to see if the privatization is a solution.

The MPRB would continue to provide outdoor utilities - primarily electricity for trail lights and snowmaking.

The agreement calls for MPRB demolition of the Wirth Par 3 Clubhouse and parking. The MPRB would build a new and larger parking lot across the Parkway (southside) and possibly a new pedestrian/biking bridge. Replacement of the Clubhouse, fully paid for out of golf revenues, is not in the plan. The Loppet would collect golf and cart rental fees at its concierge station with 95% of golf revenue paid to MPRB. The golfers are hoppin' mad!

In a related simultaneous project, the MPRB would demolish and relocate holes 17 and 18 of the historic Wirth Golf course. MN SHPO has almost completed the paperwork for a new Grand Rounds historic district and the Wirth Golf Course is listed as a contributing historic site. Relocating the golf holes would allow for new trails from the Welcome Center to the Bassett Creek area for mountain biking (bmx?) race events. (Not the same as the single track off-road trails in the Wirth woods, built by MORCA volunteers, so as not to harm the environment.)

There's more - the paperwork is over 20 pages. (http://tinyurl.com/d8aa6fl). No market studies, no business plan. No frank discussion of how many Minneapolis residents use or want winter recreation services and how to provide these, equitably, throughout the City. Not a word about access for low-income people, no mention of programs for disadvantaged youth. The Loppet is an organization with no experience in property management, commercial leasing, parkkeeping, or bicycle events - yet the MPRB is seriously considering issuing a 25 year no-bid lease and contract to this group.

This is listed as a study item before Admin and Finance Committee. Expect it will be moved, referred to full Board, and a done deal by tomorrow night.

Shawne FitzGerald
a member of Minneapolis Park Watch

From: David Tilsen Date: 16:56

Doesn't sound like a great deal to me, but then I don't know how stretched the finances are at the Park Board. This may be the only way to keep the winter recreational activity funded and get the welcome center built.

Scott, Annie, any other Park Board members want to fill us in on the arguments for and against this? I basically trust most of the current board members and would be interested in their take.

From: Scott Vreeland Date: 17:30

The basic concept of a silent sports center and better facilities for winter sports is a good one. (and legislative intent for the bonding) As always, the devil is in the details. I have the same questions that Shawne has raised with the ultimate question being- is this a good deal for park users? These will be discussed at the committee meeting and I have asked staff to discuss the issues that Shawne has raised.

Thanks,
Scott Vreeland
MPRB Commissioner

From: Lisa McDonald Date: 18:07

I cannot believe I am paying taxes for this facility and the Park Board is giving it away to the Loppet folks. Really lots of private businesses would like a deal like this. I'm tempted to start a non-profit and get a deal like this from the Park Board. I don't see where this creates revenue to keep taxes low for the system. Also if citizens don't like the way this operation is run they won't have any oversight with a 25 year lease.The lease is definitely 3 times longer than it needs to be. How about showing a little sense and trying this out on a shorter basis before giving away 22 acres of our parks. Also if the Park Board is going to deed over major parts of our park system over to groups like this....than why do we need a park board? All we need is a city manager type position or to have the city run the system. To me this deal goes against the grain of why this system was created - which was for the public. I don't want to see our park system become privatized like this.

Lisa McDonald
East Harriet

From: Annie Young Date: 07:43

For starters -this agenda item was pulled and sent back to the drawing board.

Lots of details in the pudding that have to be worked out.  THanks to the many people who have made comments.

Just a point - however,  the building to come down is the little building referred to by some as the machine shed.  THE WIRTH CHALETis not being touched - it has just been renovated.  There will be two tubing hills and I could go on and on - there are good and parts to the proposal overall. But it is my understanding there will be 3 documents. A Memo of Understanding about the MPRB and Loppet relationship including operations and maintenance.  A document for the new Welcome (Silent Sports) Center and another document regarding all the proposed services and project in the park the Loppet Foundation wants.  We still have lots and lots of work to do before we cast in stone this public-private partnership.

Stay tuned.

Annie Young
MPRB Citywide Park Commissioner
<email obscured>

See thread here.

Free Speech Zone
The Free Speech Zone offers a space for contributions from readers, without editing by the TC Daily Planet. This is an open forum for articles that otherwise might not find a place for publication, including news articles, opinion columns, announcements and even a few press releases. The opinions expressed in the Free Speech Zone and Neighborhood Notes, as well as the opinions of bloggers, are their own and not necessarily the opinion of the TC Daily Planet.
E-Democracy forum posts are republished under license by Creative Commons with Attribution

The largest regional park in the Minneapolis Park System, Wirth Park is 759 acres of year round recreational activities and natural treasures. The park is located west of Downtown Minneapolis, technically in Golden Valley, and features a sampling of practically everything in the Minneapolis Park System.

1339 Theodore Wirth Parkway
Minneapolis, MN
612 230-6400
POINT(-93.3260496 44.9770979)

Our primary commenting system uses Facebook logins. If you wish to comment without having a Facebook account, please create an account on this site and log in first. If you are already a registered user, just scroll up to the log in box in the right hand column and log in.