During its June 4 regular meeting, the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board (MPRB) approved some $2.9 million from state bonding for restoration of the Minnehaha Falls area. The money will be used in addition to $1.6 million from the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District (MCWD) to restore the Lower Glen in Minnehaha Park after time and erosion have ravaged the walls of the bridge that spans the falls and banks and walking trails downstream. The $3.5 million dollar restoration will be part of a proposed $5 million restoration for Minnehaha Park, according to the Board.
According to the MCWD, the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration built the retaining walls and bridge abutments downstream of Minnehaha Falls during Franklin Roosevelt’s administration, and there has been no significant work to renovate them since then. Since the work was part of a federal project, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is expected to facilitate the design and construction of the restoration effort for these walls and federal money for work could be made available.
Another $100,000 for work on the veterans’ memorial in adjacent Sheridan Park was also approved.
Park board commissioners also announced an agreement with home improvement company Lowes to use advertising in City parks in exchange for needed appliances and renovation of ailing park buildings.
Commissioners voted to authorize the display of six advertisement signs at different park locations for the exchange of $90,000 worth of goods and services from Lowes. The agreement also calls for Lowes to put up a utility shed in Loring Park near downtown that will be decorated with banners touting Lowes’ goods and services.
The goods and services that city parks will realize from the deal come at a time when any help in shoring up park infrastructure is desperately needed.
“The $90,000 we’ll get would be the equivalent of keeping two ice rinks open next winter,” said District 3 Commissioner Scott Vreeland. “Most of our park buildings were built back in the ’70s and we haven’t gotten the $8 million we need every year for capital improvements since 2002,” Vreeland said. The board says it would need $80 million total just to perform the upkeep on park infrastructure that has been neglected.
“The parks have been good about hiding their financial troubles,” Vreeland said. “As it is, no one notices until something falls down.”
Park officials say that financial hardship has also meant the loss of a number of park keepers and other staff.
“Investment over time is wealth, and parks are a wise investment,” said Vreeland, who oversees a large chunk of South Minneapolis parks, including Longfellow, Matthews, Brackett, East Phillips and Powderhorn. “But parks have not been a high priority when it comes to net debt bonding,” he added.
A coalition of more than 200 groups is backing a constitutional amendment for the outdoors and the arts this fall that would generate about $290 million a year by raising the state sales tax three-eighths of one percent, according to Vote Yes Minnesota communications director Charlie Poster. Some 80 percent of the money would go for conserving the state’s land, water, trails and parks and the rest would be invested in state arts and culture. Vote Yes Minnesota rose from the ashes of a similar movement comprised of outdoor enthusiasts and those who support the arts that fell apart over differences when a referendum push began almost a decade ago. The new coalition says the polling it has done shows broad support for its Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment.
Park board sources say the initiative would provide about $4 million a year for City parks. “A huge impact,” according to Vreeland.
“Otherwise,” said Vreeland, “We know people get upset with what they see as a business influence in their parks, but we’ve had Coke machines in the parks for many years,” Vreeland said. He also pointed to the Sea Salt restaurant at Minnehaha Park.
According to District 5 Park Board Commissioner Carol Kummer, the restaurant helps the parks capture money from visitors from all over the country and the world, which sources inside Park Board funding say runs to the hundreds of thousands a year.
“They’re making us a bunch of money,” said Vreeland.