Time to Raise Expectations for The Yard – A World Class Downtown Park

The Yard is the name of the 3.4-acre open space proposed as part of the redevelopment of five blocks of Star Tribune land adjacent to the new Minnesota Vikings stadium in downtown Minneapolis. With all the attention being given to the stadium and secondarily to attracting Wells Fargo as a major office tenant in the project, it is easy to forget the park itself, by far the most important piece of this project. Let’s not lull ourselves in to thinking that a place called “The Yard” can be just a casual place to gather with grass and trees. It has to be much more than that. It is profoundly important that elected officials and business leaders in the city have the vision and use the right tools to make The Yard the gathering place for downtown Minneapolis every day of the year.


The second of two articles in Minnpost by Jay Walljasper frames what Max Musicant suggested in his Streets.mn post in November about the potential for The Yard and how we should measure its success. If, in five, ten years from now and beyond, The Yard is the automatic gathering place for public events and celebrations, then we can consider it a success. Walljasper points out that, after the Twins 1987 World Series victory, Minneapolitans and Minnesotans had no place to gather and celebrate (I remember thinking the same thing, which is why I didn’t leave the house). The Yard presents an opportunity to do this, but it will require more than that which is currently budgeted. Much more. In fact, the best landscape design won’t do the trick, either. What is necessary to make The Yard a great place is good management and programming to provide reasons to come out and play. A look around the country confirms this.

It is easy for Minnesotans to think of a park as a body of water and a trail, but a downtown park is different. When you look at the websites for Discovery Green in Houston and Fountain Square in Cincinnati, images you see aren’t grass and open space but people, events and fun! Park stuff like trees and benches are important, but downtown parks are built for gathering. Even Campus Martius in Detroit shows the way. All have something in common – attractions, programming and management. Events like festivals, markets, ice skating (even in Houston), fireworks, and performances all draw people. Yes, these parks are well designed, but programming is the key.

Now that the stadium is officially under construction and the Ryan Companies proposal could be soon, let’s take the proper time to envision what The Yard can be. This won’t be cheap, based on development costs and annual budgets for Discovery Green, Fountain Square, Campus Martius, Bryant Park in New York City and others. Development of a park could cost $5 to $10 million per acre, or somewhere north of $25 million. Chuck Lutz was quoted earlier in 2013 indicating it will be $10 to $15 million – this is likely low. Compared to the $65 million in bonding the city is using to pay for parking as part of the Downtown East development plan, and the $498 in public money being directed towards the Vikings stadium, it seems that finding another $25 million for a park that would truly benefit the public isn’t too much to ask.

Musicant notes in the comments of his post that, to be successful, The Yard must attract 1.7 million visitors per year, or 5,000 per day. Many of the other downtown parks I’ve mentioned above have between 1 and 2 million visitors per year, so this estimate seems sound. That is a lot of people and it will require much more than good design and eight football games to draw them.

Furthermore, the average budget for management and programming could well be between $2.5 and $5 million annually. This isn’t chump change, but can be covered in part by sponsorships and concessions. Other revenue should come from adjacent landowners and tenants that benefit most. Certainly the Minnesota Vikings and Wells Fargo stand to benefit more than the county morgue, and the Downtown Improvement District is the entity most able to collect any revenue in this manner.

It makes sense to treat The Yard as a somewhat separate matter in this overall process in order to take the time to get it right, and the city has created a Park Committee to help provide guidance. To be successful, this will require a very close collaboration between the new mayor Hodges, the Minneapolis Downtown Council, Minneapolis Park Board and certainly area landowners/tenants. A very well managed and programmed park will benefit all.

You may laugh at the notion about having a place to celebrate a Vikings Super Bowl victory. Lest we forget we have a champion, the Lynx, and as Jay Walljasper points out, the Twins won the World Series twice but we had and still have no place to celebrate. The larger point isn’t that we are hoping for a Super Bowl championship, although that would be wonderful. The real measure of our success is if downtown has a public space that is the natural gathering place in which to celebrate that victory. That will only happen if The Yard is a place to celebrate our city every day. That’s what’s on the line, and with The Yard we have a tremendous opportunity right in front of us to achieve this goal.

Sam Newberg

About Sam Newberg

Sam Newberg, a.k.a. Joe Urban, is an urbanist, real estate consultant and writer. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife and two kids, and his website is www.joe-urban.com.

20 thoughts on “Time to Raise Expectations for The Yard – A World Class Downtown Park

  1. Adam MillerAdam

    You’re not talking about a park. You’re talking about a downtown event space. An event space would be great (and better than an just a park), but I guess that isn’t what I thought was being proposed. And I don’t agree that if it’s only a park (green space with the typical park recreational amenities) it would be a failure. If they did nothing but tear up the asphalt and plant grass, it would be a significant improvement over what’s there now.

    But what you guys are talking about would definitely be something better.

    1. Sam NewbergSam Newberg Post author

      Adam, good point. I guess there are many definitions for “park.” And grass may be phase 1 while decisions are made regarding funding, management, etc.

  2. Jonathan Ahn

    I wonder if the new Vikings stadium includes some planning for what to do with the current LRT station area and how they are going to do crowd control in relation to the station, stadium building and this new park.

    1. Sam NewbergSam Newberg Post author

      I think it does. I’ve seen plans that show 4th Street and Chicago Av closed on gamedays. Keeping the trains running and allowing thousands of people to cross the tracks is a big chore. (I wish the train had been placed in a tunnel downtown.

  3. John Bailey

    Thanks for the article, Sam. One small piece that might help to eventually activate the space is to not allow skyway connections between the new structures. I recall last year some serious cognitive dissonance happening with Ryan seeking funding for skyway connections but also yammering on about how active and vibrant The Yards were going to be. I don’t where that all landed, and I’m not suggesting that that no skyway connections gets to all the issues you bring up, but let’s at least not repeat the sins of the past.

    And another super small but doable short-term strategy would be using the Yards as a central place for the food trucks. That’s lacking now, and sitting on a sidewalk on Marquette is a bit of a soul sucking experience.

    1. Sam NewbergSam Newberg Post author

      John, you raise a good point, but too late, there will be skyway connections everywhere. I have not seen a design but I believe Ryan is proposing that connections between street and skyway level will be like the escalators in the Target store and headquarters, meaning you’ll be able to see out the building from portions of the skyway level. Being able to look out from the skyway level and see what is going on in The Yard will help immensely.

      The fact is with skyways and skyway level retail there will be fewer people outside and this will hurt numbers of visits to the park. This is simple math. Stated goals of the city, mayor, Ryan, etc. is to create a more walkable district, yet we damage the potential for walkability by continuing to build skyways (at great expense). I don’t get it. I just don’t get it.

    2. Adam MillerAdam

      Using the Yard for food trucks sounds like a good idea to me. It’s a bit farther away from the business that are annoyed by the competition and it offers the chance for some seating, which is sorely lacking on Marquette as you say.

      You could potentially even use the Armory as a place for them to be indoors in the winter, maybe.

      But really, I don’t think not connecting these two buildings and the parking ramp with skyways will make much difference for the park itself. If there are skyways, it would be nice to see the design put some effort into connecting the skyway level to the street for once, though.

  4. John Bailey

    Yep, I just read that in a Strib blog article, “The Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, which is overseeing stadium construction, will pay for about 35 percent of the ramp. The authority will also pay $10.7 million to construct skyways.”

    I didn’t know that about the proposed design with the escalators so at least that is something.

  5. Marcus

    My thoughts- 1) this is what I wanted from Block E before the current structure went up. 2) some big needs to happen with the Armory- like a Global Market like Midtown. Hopefully that’s tied to the project somehow. 3) the ramps mentioned in the STrib article better have retail or commercial on the ground level or its a huge waste of space.

    1. Adam MillerAdam

      Agreed, although I’m not sure that the Midtown Global Market has been such a success and I’m not sure that adding yet more retail space is the right plan for the Armory.

      1. Sam NewbergSam Newberg Post author

        I’ve been told a “liner” of retail is going to face The Yard. The back side of the parking structure, facing 3rd Street, will be possible to convert to commercial space at a later time. Ryan and the city would be wise to publish some of these important details.

  6. Dale

    I don’t disagree with this post, but I also don’t completely agree.

    I think this part of downtown needs a lot of green. I wouldn’t be very happy with a fountain and a ton of paving…even if it was nice and landscaped…just so that we could have a big outdoor concert or a BBQ festival or something. Green increases property values and appeal. Big open plazas are often duds…even in great cities.

    I would be supportive of 15% of the area for programming, a big lawn for summer concerts, a jogging/walking path and the rest nice treed park area.

    1. Sam NewbergSam Newberg Post author

      Just to clarify, I’m not suggesting (and nor is Max Musicant) a big open plaza. We’re suggesting first and foremost programming and activity for the park, and a design that fits that. Our fear is that the space won’t be as active as a good downtown park should. So whether it is green grass or a large plaza, lack of activity would be a missed opportunity.

      I don’t think anyone is suggesting a lack of green, per se. Great parks have greenery, but ideally that would consist of less grass and more trees and flowers with paved areas that can accommodate activity, food trucks, festivals, etc. A fountain or statue as a meeting place. Grass tends to get pretty beat up by crowds of people.

  7. Pingback: “The Yard” Part 3: Making it Work: for the City, Ryan Co., the Vikings, and (most important) – the Public | streets.mn

  8. Pingback: The Yard Part 4 – A Vision for an Active Urban Park | streets.mn

  9. Andrew

    For great programming look no further than Milwaukee. One of their downtown parks has “jazz in the park” one night a week, all summer long. People are allowed to bring food and alcohol, and there’s a ton of local food vendors. It’s a huge draw for those within walking distance and and people from the burbs. This is awesome summer activity. Let’s bring in the food trucks, bring in the music, allow alcohol and the people will follow!

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