Minneapolis City Council rules that DeLaSalle football field will not damage historic district

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With little debate, the City Council on Sept. 22 voted to allow DeLaSalle High School to move ahead with its plans for a football stadium on Nicollet Island.

The vote, to approve a “Certificate of Appropriateness,” overturned an earlier decision by the city’s Heritage Preservation Commission to deny the school’s application due to its inability to adequately mitigate the proposed project’s damage to the historic character of the district. And while it clears the way for the school to begin the official development process, the project still faces several obstacles.

As he did during a recent public hearing in his Zoning and Planning Committee, City Council Member Gary Schiff (Ward 9) stressed that the council was not addressing issues of church versus state (DeLaSalle is a Catholic school), public versus private land, or passive versus active land use. While these issues have dominated the contentious debate over the past several months, they would not play a role in the council’s decision. “Our scope today is rather narrow,” he said.

The real question, he noted, was whether the school’s intention to close off historic Grove St. would “materially affect” the district. And, in his view, it would not. “The historic resource is not the road itself,” he said. “Grove Street has been completely restructured.”

The school will have to change its original plans regarding the construction materials it wants to use and it will have to tone down the lighting, but Schiff said these issues will be addressed as the proposal makes its way through City Hall’s development process.

Council members Diane Hofstede (Ward 3) and Cam Gordon (Ward 2) spoke against the project, each arguing that the $3 million, 750-seat facility was not compatible with the historic nature of the island and that the school did not adequately explore other alternatives. “There are other options,” Hofstede said.

By upholding the Heritage Preservation Commission’s decision, Gordon added, the council could work with the school and the neighborhood to reach some consensus. “There’s an opportunity to find something that maintains the integrity of the historic district and address the needs of the school,” he said.

The council voted 8-4 in favor of the project, with council members Robert Lilligren (Ward 6) and Elizabeth Glidden (Ward 8) joining Gordon and Hofstede in opposing the plan. Council president Barbara Johnson, who serves on the DeLaSalle Board of Trustees said she had been cleared to vote on the issue by the city’s ethics officer because she has no financial interest in the decision.

After the vote, Michael Guest, a spokesperson for Friends of the Mississippi, which is part of a coalition of preservation, environmental, and neighborhood groups that has opposed the project, said he was not surprised by the decision. “We expected the result,” he said. “This was completely and utterly a political decision.”

The coalition will continue to work to stop the development as it moves through the city’s approval process. He would not rule out a lawsuit, but explained that there was plenty of time to consider their next step. “Unlike DeLaSalle and the city, we’re going to explore all our options before we move forward,” he said.

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