City Centered: The Orphan

Will anyone seize the opportunity of The Yard?

The Yard

If you hated the state/city deal to fund a new Vikings stadium—as many Minneapolis politicians did—then the only silver lining was the new park, “The Yard,” to be built as part of the complex land deal that is remaking Downtown East.

For years we’ve heard that downtown Minneapolis is devoid of green space and that great cities have public gathering spaces in their centers. Chicago’s Millennium Park is the current pinnacle of such thinking, but modest Jamison Square in Portland’s Pearl District is another great source of inspiration.

The Yard was a major win for ex-Mayor R.T. Rybak and portended a payoff in the stadium effort for non-sports fans and non-fat cats. The renderings were attractive; the development deals are moving forward. But when it got down to defining the little old park, things got messy:

  • Gadfly lawsuits made it manifest that if the space was a park, it fell under the Park Board’s domain. After asserting its dominion, though, the Park Board returned the project to the city braying that it was not a park. Truth was it had no money to build it out.
  • Hennepin County roads passed through The Yard, but the county—not a player in the stadium effort—refused to consider burying or vacating Park or Portland avenues.
  • There is a philosophical divide between traditionalists who want The Yard filled with ball fields and playground equipment and those who would like to see a more original space that would draw visitors from all over the city.
  • We learned the Vikings and Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority could have control of the space for as many as 80 days a year (in exchange for giving up space for a concrete plaza on the stadium site).

But the biggest issue is that right now the park is a hot potato bereft of a powerful champion or a willing patron. Rybak wrote an impassioned op-ed in the Star Tribune this spring to galvanize public interest. Little seemed to come of it.

Minneapolis’s liberal establishment jealously guards its layers of government, but those layers, with their parochialism and territorialism, are one of the primary reasons The Yard is languishing. Yes, money is hard to come by, and perhaps more attention should have been paid to that aspect last year. But today we have multiple units of civic government with dominion over aspects of The Yard, and they are all doing the equivalent of shrugging their shoulders and refusing to make eye contact.

Nobody’s in charge, and nobody has money, so nobody wants to touch it. The signature green space downtown Minneapolis so badly needed is an orphan, mostly of interest to the Vikings for a faux-tailgating experience on Sundays. For a city and region that spends so much time patting itself on the back, this should be a no-brainer. The downtown corporate community, developers, and all the parties that will benefit from The Yard’s appeal should chip in to make it great. Not a cookie-cutter neighborhood park with under-maintained ball fields, shaggy lawns, and creaky swings, but something that brings people downtown.

R.T. Rybak should lead the effort, and now that the Park Board is out, his long history of antagonism with it is irrelevant. Mayor Betsy Hodges and Hennepin County need to step up as stakeholders as well. As should all the stadium opponents—this is your chance to turn your hated edifice into an urban win.

Time’s a-wasting.

Adam Platt is the executive editor of Twin Cities Business Magazine and formerly held the same post at Mpls.St.Paul Magazine. City Centered is his monthly column in Mpls.St.Paul Magazine that examines the cultural climate of the Twin Cities.