With DeLaSalle supporters packing council chambers, a Minneapolis City Council committee on Thursday voted unanimously to allow the school to build a football stadium on Nicollet Island.
The 4–0 vote came after nearly two hours of public testimony from DeLaSalle loyalists who believe the school deserves to have a home football field and Nicollet Island preservationists who argue that such a facility would ruin the historic character of the island by closing off one of the district’s roads, erecting tall banks of lights, and generating more traffic, congestion, and noise.
“You need to balance history with the needs of the kids,” said DeLaSalle student body president Jerry Crumb. “This is the future that is at stake.”
DeLaSalle was appealing last month’s decision by the city’s Historic Preservation Commission denying its application for the Certificate of Appropriateness required to build the stadium.
Also testifying in support of the football field were Minneapolis Park Board Commissioner Mary Merrill Anderson, former city council members Louis DeMars and John Derus, former Hennepin County district court judge LaJune Lange, as well as experts in the fields of archaeology, landscape architecture, traffic management, noise pollution, and historic preservation.
Against that onslaught of consultants and public officials, opponents of the facility sought to focus on legal precedents governing historic preservation, arguing that the City Council has already formally recognized that Grove Street—which would have to be closed to build the football field—is a historic landmark and must be preserved. They also noted that DeLaSalle has not demonstrated a lack of “reasonable” alternative sites for the facility. Both findings by the Historic Preservation Commission require that the facility be built elsewhere, said Jack Perry, an attorney representing the group Friends of the Riverfront.
Perry pointed to Hennepin County’s attempt to demolish the Minneapolis Armory and replace it with a jail and noted that the courts in that case rejected the county’s argument because there were alternative sites. The same argument could be made in this case, he explained. Two nearby sites—the Boom Island and B.F. Nelson parcels—are clear alternatives, he said, as is Parade Stadium, just west of Downtown.
But Zoning and Planning Committee chair Gary Schiff rejected the notion that Grove Street was a historic landmark. “It’s a rather esoteric concept to me” that the “alignment” of a longstanding street could be deemed historic when the buildings and residences have been demolished. “I’m not sure this road is any more historic than any other road on the island.”
Council Member Ralph Remington agreed, noting that the island has gone through many changes since it was first settled in the 1860s. A football stadium is just part of those changes. “This island is not as it was,” he said.
And building the facility on nearby Boom Island or the B.F. Nelson site would conflict with current Park Board plans for those sites, said Anderson.
Seeking a compromise, Council Member Diane Hofstede presented preliminary plans for an elevated football field built on the school’s current parking lot, facing Hennepin Avenue. This “elevated green roof field” would give the school ample parking and locker room space below and could be built relatively quickly at a cost of about $5 million, $2 million more than the estimated cost of the proposed facility.
“This accommodates the agreement with the Park Board and reconnects DeLaSalle with Hennepin Avenue,” she said.
But the Hofstede proposal generated little enthusiasm from committee members, who quickly moved to push the original proposal forward—with some conditions. The school will have to use construction materials that are more compatible with its surroundings, present a full archeological mitigation and protection plan, and propose less intrusive lighting.
The proposal will be taken up by the full council at its September 22 meeting. Meanwhile, opponents will prepare their legal arguments for likely court battle, should the council approve the facility.
“Maybe people will come to their senses,” before a lawsuit becomes necessary, said Lisa Hondros of Friends of the Riverfront. But if they don’t, she added, “We’ve got a very strong case,”