Northeast Minneapolis residents, unhappy with pace of riverfront park development, ask: How long is temporary?

What the park board staff see as an internal operations matter, some neighborhood activists see as a slide backwards from progress toward continuous parkland along the river. Anyone hoping to influence the outcome will have just a couple of weeks to write letters and attend a public hearing anticipated July 16.

We’re talking about 1720 Marshall St. NE, where the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board purchased land to hold for future park development, now leased to Psycho Suzi’s for valet parking.

The park system plans to spend $4 million to re-roof and refurbish the building that’s on the land for indoor vehicle storage, adding some offices and rest rooms for workers, and a restroom for public use. On land to the north that they also own, an overlook would be built and trail access on the river side would be emphasized. The building would be named the Michael P. Schmidt Operations Center in honor of the years of service Schmidt dedicated to the park board.

Northeast’s Park commissioner Liz Wielinski, who told the Northeaster she was unimpressed with the staff’s first outreach to the community, brought information to the Sheridan Neighborhood Organization’s June meeting. The building is at the border between Sheridan and Bottineau, where the neighborhood association will have a meeting July 24.

“Sheridan was not happy with it,” Wielinski said, as also evidenced by a flurry of emails shared with the Northeaster. One said the $4 million should be used to acquire and build on a less prime piece of real estate elsewhere.

“We need to get out and help neighbors understand what it is, and if they don’t want it and we don’t do it, what will happen.”

She said the previous owners let the roof go, so there is also mold in the building, a shell of a warehouse. Tests show a need for pollution remediation under the asphalt, so they would take up some of it and start “phytoremediation,” letting garden plants break down the pollutants and contribute to storm water treatment on site, another concern.

There might be some materials stored outside, such as ag lime for ballfields, and wood chips, and staff who operate the vehicles will park outside on site. But the park maintenance vehicles for the north half of town, including cranes and Bobcats, would park indoors in a tight arrangement that Wielinski called “a house of cards.” She said in summer, the gardeners have two shifts which means working until dark and on weekends.

There is a Southside Service Center which provides similar functions for the parks in South Minneapolis.

Wielinski said indoor storage is needed to extend the life of “multi-millions of dollars of equipment” which has been open to vandalism and theft. “This is intended to solve a maintenance crisis, and to give people a chance to see and enjoy the river” from an overlook that will cost about $125,000 of the $4 million to develop.

Wielinski said the recent flurry of land acquisitions – Scherer Brothers, 1720, 2220 Marshall and the Rosenberg property next to the Sample Room – is not likely to continue, as the Metropolitan Council Regional Park Acquisition fund has now been tapped by the entire metro area with land prices low during the recession. Two firmly planted businesses, Siwek Lumber and Marshall Concrete would take substantial resources to move.

In that context, a park operations building being on the river until the next massive acquisition could happen; well, that’s “not going to be just a five or ten year proposition.”

Marshall Terrace resident Mary McGuire, writing to the Northeaster, included an excerpt from assistant park superintendent Bruce Chamberlain’s letter for request for action by the Metropolitan Council. “Our intended use will be for short term operations and storage within the building, and long term removal of the building and use of the land as a regional park.” The newspaper reported this intent at the time the board acquired the parcel.

If the neighbors don’t want it and the project is scrapped, “we will fix the other buildings and this building will sit,” Wielinski said. This new project would bring together operations and vehicles out of a site in North Minneapolis near Webber Park and the maintenance facility behind Columbia Park in Northeast.

The Northside operations center, for example, has “one cruddy bathroom,” Wielinski said. It was built when there were only men working in the field. But the Forestry department would not move and the building would not be decommissioned, because it has space for the parks’ log loaders which are too big for the 1720 Marshall building.

The Columbia operations center would also remain because the golf course uses part of it and it has space for other equipment larger than the 1720 Marshall site could accommodate.

Dana Murdoch, the planner assigned, began working at the park system about the time that SALA Architects and Coen Partners were chosen to design the renovations, four months ago. She told the Northeaster the architects had done the feasibility study, and have kept in mind the Above the Falls master plan for the upper Mississippi River when designing the trails and the “north parcel.”

Murdoch said the building would serve park operations and the Teen Teamworks program, 10 to 12 full-time foremen, park keepers and gardeners. There would be three offices and other desk spaces. In summer, up to 30 seasonal staff would also pass through the building, not including the teens.

Murdoch explained the notification process for a May 22 meeting that no neighbors attended. “Because of the park operations nature of it, there was never an intent to have three meetings,” the typical neighborhood input loop. “We had the informational open house, we went out to the three blocks” around the property. Because it is a new project, it didn’t have a GovDelivery email list of its own, so no notice went out that way, Murdoch said.

There is now a website link, on Minneapolisparks.org under “current projects” click on Michael P. Schmidt Operations Center. Comments and questions may be addressed to Dana Murdoch at 612-230-6446 or Commissioner Liz Wielinski at lwielinski [at] minneapolisparks [dot] org.

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Margo Ashmore's picture
Margo Ashmore

Margo Ashmore is the editor of NorthNews.