Northeast Athletic Field Park is getting postponed upgrades in 2021, including a new ballfield on the west side of Fillmore Street and a new playground just southwest of the recreation center and behind the Lupient Water Park. In addition, an adjacent field will be renovated. The fields will include new lighting and irrigation, if funding allows. The maintenance-access drive will be relocated from railroad property onto Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) property, and the small parking lot at the south end will be removed to allow for maintenance access only.
MPRB Design Project Manager Daniel Elias said, “The construction of the ball field is expected to occur this fall to allow for summer programming and to give the field grass a full year grow-in period before it opens late summer or fall next year.” He added that both the ballfield and the playground will be accessible, and the ball field will have permanent openings to allow for community use when the fields aren’t reserved.
The current project was part of a larger upgrade, including a new recreation building, proposed in 2015 and finished in 2019, that reached its budget limits before all the items could be completed. A year later, MPRB and the City of Minneapolis, seeking to reverse years of underfunding in neighborhood parks, created the 20-Year Neighborhood Park Plan (NPP20). The MPRB website calls NPP20 “a long-term initiative that hopes to transform the neighborhood park system by protecting current levels of MPRB funding, dedicating an additional $11 million annually, through 2036, in NPP20 funds for increased maintenance, rehabilitation and capital investments in neighborhood parks, and allocating funds using a data-driven, criteria-based system to help address racial and economic equity.” Elias said that nearly all of the current project’s just-over $1 million budget comes from NPP20 funding.
Changes and enhancements are nothing new for the 37-acre park. Part of the park was built on the old Johnson Street limestone quarry, which covered much of the area now occupied by the Johnson Street entrance to I-35W and a Home Depot. The area was initially developed by the Park Board for ball teams, but work on the park was halted after less than a year by the start of World War II. After the war, housing for veterans and their families took precedence over playing fields, and Quonset huts soon covered a large portion of the park area. The last of those were taken out of use in 1954, and a stretch of Buchanan Street from 14th to 16th Street was closed. By 1956, the park was graded, sodded, and got a new, lighted football field.
In 1968, the park got the odd distinction of getting the city’s first public swimming pool east of the Mississippi River. The pool was named for Henry Rosacker, a park commissioner from Northeast Minneapolis from 1951 to 1973, and a member of the family that owned the Rosacker Nursery on Stinson Boulevard. In 1994 the park board began renovation of the play areas in the park with funding from the Neighborhood Revitalization Program and the school board. In 2002, a new facility, the Lupient Water Park, opened on the Johnson Street side of the park, with funding from the Lupient family. And in 2008, the baseball fields at Northeast were upgraded with a grant from the Minnesota Twins (and Twins’ first baseman Justin Morneau). In 2011 the park got new irrigation and fencing.
Various stakeholders were contacted at the start of this project’s planning, including the Northeast Park Neighborhood Association, Yinghua Academy, and 2019 East of the River and 2014 NEAF Park Master Plan CAC Members. Softball players and youth were emailed through recreational programming lists. An online survey was conducted asking what style/play features should be included in the new playground, and survey results can be found here: https://www.minneapolisparks.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/nafpfpi_survey_results.pdf
Below: West Area image shows one rehabbed and one new ball field west of Fillmore Street. East Area image shows spoon-shaped new playground area near the Water Park. (Graphic courtesy Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board) Historical photo of the former quarry turned dump before it was redeveloped, between Johnson and Fillmore. (Photo courtesy of Hennepin County Library)