The Minneapolis City Council got too big for its britches and tried to circumvent the city charter when it entered into an agreement with the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board (MPRB) to operate the Commons park next to U.S. Bank Stadium, said Judge Bruce A. Peterson in a Dec. 31 ruling in the Fourth District Court.
The ruling came about because two Northeast guys, former First Ward City Council Member Paul Ostrow and John Hayden, who recently ran for a City Council seat, stopped the city’s rushing game and handed the Council and the Minnesota Vikings a big, fat loss.
The 4.2-acre Commons opened in 2016. Two years prior, the Park Board, which usually operates Minneapolis parks, said it didn’t have the money and didn’t want to operate the Commons. (Hey, somebody actually tried to stay within budget!) So the city engaged in some creative financing, selling the park to MPRB for $1. In 2017, MPRB leased it back to the city, which operates it through the nonprofit Green Minneapolis. According to the Commons Facebook page, in 2018, Green Minneapolis produced 103 free public events and the park had 600,000 visitors and 32,000 event attendees. The Vikings get to use the park free for 50 years.
What got under the collars of Ostrow and Hayden was not only the end run around the city’s charter, but the fact that through the park operations, the city (read: you and I, the taxpayers) is subsidizing the next-door parking ramp, built for the adjacent Wells Fargo offices which the Vikings and their customers get to use for free for 50 years.
Many people were (and still are) opposed to the deal that got the Vikings their new stadium. For many, there’s something immoral about millionaires butting heads on Sunday afternoons while the city’s poorest huddle in the cold beneath a monstrosity of a building that looks like the back end of a machine shed after a farmer drove his combine through it.
It’s bad enough that governments trip all over themselves to offer concessions to the robber barons of the National Football League (part of the Commons was closed to the public during Super Bowl). Worse still that city government ignores the very rules under which it’s supposed to operate.
The city and MPRB have held a separate-but-equal status for most of Minneapolis’ 150-history, with parks management left up to the authority and discretion of the Park Board. It was that way under the city’s original charter, and it stayed that way after a 2013 voter-approved charter amendment. Ostrow reminds us that a different judge, in a 2013 case, ruled the same way as Peterson on the charter question: that if what becomes the Commons is considered a park, it must be operated by the park board…and the city said yeah we’re going to turn it over to the park board; and when the park board said no, they still proceeded.
Peterson wrote in his Dec. 31 ruling, “Minneapolis municipal government is not a free-wheeling political activity, but operates according to clearly stated structural arrangements.”
The Dec. 31 ruling was the second go-round for Ostrow and Hayden and the city. In an order dated May 23, 2018, the court dismissed their argument that challenged the Urban Park Use Agreement, saying they could not prove they had been “injured” by the agreement. It also dismissed the Vikings and the Minnesota Sports Authority from the case. However, it let the charge against the city’s charter violation continue through the court system.
The ambitious Minneapolis City Council wants the city to be all things to all people: A shelter for the poor and disenfranchised; a playground for the rich, an affordable place to live with outrageous property taxes. It can’t run a city and its parks, too.
Peterson was clear in his decision: “The City lacks authority to operate and manage the Commons, and therefore it lacks authority to spend money to do so. Plaintiffs are entitled to an appropriate injunction.”
Ostrow and Hayden have until Jan. 11 to come up with a proposed injunction against the city. Minneapolis will have until Jan. 21 to answer with a proposal of its own.
In the meantime, chalk one up for the little guy.