Minneapolis Parks & Rec Board Meeting

A few nights ago I attended a regular Minneapolis Parks & Rec Board meeting at the Mary Merrill MPRB headquarters and a few others watched via the MPRB’s live stream on Youtube. It was the first full board meeting of the MPRB since the news of the Cooper playground demolition was shared, and was seemingly the first time at least some of the board members had heard of the removal.

The board met for their regular business such as voting on easements and fees, a detailed presentation by the MPRB staff of the proposed 2024 budget. In the course of the regular business, however, the topic of school playground removal was discussed within another proposal about fees assessed to the City for a park stormwater drainage project. Essentially, the City wants to use some Parks-owned land to terminate a storm water drain and the question is: does the City pay a fee to MPRB for that access, and to which portion of the MPRB budget?

Special Fund

Our District 3 Parks Commissioner Becky Alper floated an amendment to this proposal to set any assessed fee to a special matching fund which could be used to acquire Minneapolis Public Schools park-like properties, with further future approval on a per-property basis. You can view the timestamped video of that proposal on the MPRB Youtube channel, here. It goes a little fast, but the basic assertions are:

  • the Minneapolis parks system is ranked nationally with the MPS sites included in those scorecards
  • Mayor Frey has campaigned on improving the attractiveness of the city to young families and was instrumental in the storm water projects
  • MPS is in dire financial straights, and MPRB has a shared interest in preserving amenities for the cities youth
  • any use of this new fund would still have checks on what the funds are specifically used for.

If you watch the video you’ll see Commissioner Alper gets a few comments in on the proposal before the floor is opened for the scheduled 5:30pm public comments, after which the issue can be taken up again to board discussion and a final vote. Howe resident Andrew Stephenson addressed the board with his vision for what a MPRB park would look like, starting here.

The Dissent

After the public comment period closes the board resumes the discussion before doing the final vote, in which Alper’s amendment fails to pass 4 to 5. Some notes from some of the dissenters:

  • the amendment represents a policy change within a proposal that is more administrative in nature (ie should approval of a storm water drain include the creation of a fund to purchase MPS properties?)
  • a project in one district should not fund projects in other districts
  • any discussion about collaboration between MPRB and MPS needs to happen at higher levels, directly, and strategically, and this board meeting wasn’t the place for it.

In summary of the dissent, it seems that, at least in the words presented at the meeting, there is not a strong opposition to the idea of preserving MPS playgrounds (either in some maintenance agreement, acquisition, etc), but that any consideration towards that purpose needs more planning, time, effort.

Final Vote:

Yea Nay
Alper, Olsen, Crudup, Menz Abene, Thompson, Shaffer, Forney, Musich

Ultimately it seems that any action from the MPRB on coming to the aid of MPS playgrounds is going to require significant more prodding. It is clear that no member of the MPRB relishes the idea of playgrounds being torn down, MPRB property or not, but it’s also worth keeping in mind that they operate independently of the school district. MPRB is right to consider carefully any engagement with MPS. However, it is in the interest of the city as a whole that they do consider preserving playground access for Minneapolis youth.

*record of votes corrected from original posting– Olsen voted in favor, not Thompson

An additional note: one of the dissenters, Commissioner Musich, will be representing the Cooper area as the results of redistricting are applied for next MPRB elections in November 2025 (and new boundaries taking effect the start of 2026). That is 2 years away, but may be of some interest.

Minneapolis Parks & Recreation Board meetings are typically the first and third Wednesdays of the month, at 5pm. The meetings start with about 30 minutes of discussion amongst the board, and a public comment period opens at 5:30 and runs for 15 minutes max (each speaker typically being granted 2 minutes). If you wish to submit a comment or speak in person, take a look at the MPRB website for more information.