The Yard Part 5 – Unanswered Questions Loom

Some huge questions about The Yard remain unanswered (the latest stadium legal challenge notwithstanding). The Park Committee met on January 9 to begin fleshing out a vision for The Yard. The committee has made a good start by identifying prioritization of year-round activities (note, activities year round is different than year-round activities – a skating rink, for example is seasonal), the idea that active uses attract passive, and balancing daily uses with major events. This is all well and good, but I can’t help but think that now more than ever is the time to engage more professional assistance in thinking about this vision – I’m looking at you, PPS! (Actually, I’m looking at you, Park Committee, to commit some funds to pay for this.) Project for Public Spaces (PPS) has done this numerous times across the country. They could be of tremendous assistance.

Here are a few of the major unanswered questions:

First, do we need a playing field? Mayor Rybak (still recovering from his heart attack – thinking of you, R.T.!) sent his regrets but also a note indicating his emphatic support for a playing field.  Rybak noted that he has a potential donor, but hinted these dollars are contingent on having a playing field. Past posts about The Yard have indicated we should rethink a playing field, as they are restrictive, inflexible, inactive when not programmed, require maintenance and don’t bring in a lot of potential revenue per square foot, not to mention most leagues require more than one field. Then again, when you include the 2.7 acre plaza at the new Vikings stadium, the light rail block and the 3.4-acre “The Yard,” there is room for a field, even if it isn’t the highest and best use. Let’s not allow the first potential donor to dictate design before the vision for The Yard is fleshed out.

Second, it is quite likely that Oslund & Associates will design The Yard. The firm designed Gold Medal Park, of which I’m not a fan, but also Target Plaza, which I quite like. They also provided the landscape design for the new Vikings stadium and have been engaged by the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA) to begin planning the block on which the Downtown East light rail station is located. While it makes sense for continuity’s sake that they design The Yard (the next two blocks to the west), perhaps a little more variety in landscape design providers is in order.

Third, speaking of continuity, Hennepin County has not provided a clear idea as to how Park and especially Portland Avenue will look and function. A representative from Hennepin County has not been present to the past two Park Committee meetings (Peter McLaughlin is listed as a member), yet they own the two roads that pass through the park and some renderings still show Park and Portland being closed. There have been numerous references to Park and Portland being “narrowed.” Is this even true? Moreover, can they be rebuilt to be more seamless and less of a barrier, using similar paving as The Yard and perhaps curbless edges? Can they be two-way? We need to know what the options are so we can plan appropriately – this decision will make or break a number of options for The Yard, and will determine whether The Yard is one, two, or even three “yards.”

Fourth, the Vikings and the MSFA have been pretty quiet so far about how they envision The Yard being used on game days and how that translates to design (The Vikings’ Lester Bagley and Michele Kelm-Helgen of the MSFA are Park Committee members). In many ways, tailgating/railgating and other events on game day are exactly the kind of programming needed for The Yard – they bring in visitors from all over the metro, the state, and beyond (the latter arriving from the airport via light rail – how convenient!). Yes, daily and weekly events like yoga classes and farmers market, for example, are equally important to fill in gaps between larger events, but if we design basic elements of The Yard with the flexibility to accommodate game day activities, that flexibility of design ought to translate to other events.

Fourth (Part B), the flip side of this point is the Vikings and MFSA have rights to as many as 58 days of use per year of The Yard (again, even the Park Committee isn’t completely clear on how many days and how much space). How this is handled is very important, as discussed in Part 3 of this series. If The Yard is entirely open to the public during these event and most people are wearing purple, that is one thing, but if all or a major chunk of The Yard is closed to everyone but ticketholders, this is another matter entirely.

Fifth, regarding the overall vision for The Yard, Councilmember Jacob Frey (on the Park Committee) indicated his dislike of parks that have an X-shape and a fountain in the middle. I questioned him afterwards, and his larger point was that The Yard not be too generic. I understand that impulse, but in many ways I think we need to keep it simple. For so many reasons, flexibility being a primary one, a fairly simple park makes the most sense. If The Yard were simply designed with wide, tree-lined walkways in an X-shape that met in the middle at a fountain, that would be a big win, as long as those walkways could accommodate food trucks, tailgating, art fairs, and farmers markets. Today’s landscape architects are sometimes allowed to over-design spaces, which can make them inflexible. So with regard to Oslund, or whomever designs this, designers are only as good as their clients. All the more reason to flesh out a strong vision to guide the talented designers who will work on this. If The Yard wins a landscape design award, this does not guarantee a successful park. Isn’t it more important that “meet me at the fountain in The Yard” becomes a common text message among friends and coworkers, rather than some esoteric award for landscape designers? Awards are great, but let’s keep our eye on the ball.

As you can see, there are lots of unanswered questions that need addressing before a real vision for The Yard can be agreed upon. The Park Committee meets again on January 30 at 4PM in Minneapolis City Hall Room 333.

This was crossposted at Joe Urban.

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

8 thoughts on “The Yard Part 5 – Unanswered Questions Loom

  1. Damien

    This has been a great series. The Yard (hopefully that name won’t stick) has great potential, and it’s important to have this prospective forum so hopefully the potential isn’t squandered into yet another traditional city park. I wanted to share a favorite park experience that I hope can be imitated at The Yard.

    In Berlin, there’s a park set against remnants of the Berlin Wall called Mauerpark (Wall Park). Every weekend, it hosts a massive flea market that’s become a consistent attraction for both locals and tourists. The stalls feature a tremendous array of used and artisan-made goods. There are a few bar patios interspersed as well to keep things lively. In the late afternoon when the market begins to empty, bands busk and people sing karaoke and just hang out and party with their friends and neighbors. Since coming home to Minneapolis, I’ve wished such a positive public experience existed here (kind of a combination of Farmers’ Markets and the Music and Movies series, only less stiff).

    The Yard seems like a perfect place for such an event to occur. It is a large enough space. It has great non-car accessibility to the surrounding city with the Stone Arch Bridge connecting Marcy-Holmes, the pedestrian bridges connecting the West Bank and, of course, light rail access.

    Here’s a link to the Mauerpark flea market’s website:

  2. helsinki

    I agree that the designers must resist the urge to over-conceptualize the park.

    Parks are best when they are easy to access and pleasant to be in. That means wide sidewalks, few barriers, ample seating facing the center of activity, well lit at night, etc.

    It will be interesting to see the rendering. Anything that comes packaged in a highly stylized aerial format bathed in the last rays of the setting sun whilst fireworks illuminate the smiling faces of fashionably dressed people is probably suspect.

    1. Adam MillerAdam

      Those park board complaints are strange. It’s “the perfect protest park,” and you think that’s a bad thing? And you sit on the Park Board?

      No surprise that they want to know how it’s going to be paid for, though.

      As for the suit, the judge previously dismissed that claim as unripe (the city is not yet operating a park). I wonder what the plaintiff’s think has changed in their amended complaint that won’t lead the same judge to reach the same conclusion.

      Anyway, the whole strategy is baffling to me. Those three are major stadium opponents, which is understandable. But the worst case stadium scenario is building the big subsidized stadium and letting it sit there surrounded by surface parking lots, which now seems to be their goal.

      1. Sam NewbergSam Newberg Post author

        Adam, to your last point, yes, that would be a worst case scenario indeed. However, if the stadium still goes ahead and the Ryan deal falls apart, it is likely there will still be a big parking ramp as part of the stadium that could still leverage other development, but a 5,000 person employer like Wells Fargo may not ever materialize again.

        I can understand why the park board is a little miffed at all this.

  3. Sam NewbergSam Newberg Post author

    The Park Committee meeting on January 30 has been cancelled. Regular meetings on the second Thursday of each month are still scheduled, so the next meeting is on February 13 at 4PM in City Hall room 333.

  4. Sam NewbergSam Newberg Post author

    Pertaining to the stadium/park litigation, the judge has ordered Woodruff, Cohen and Ostrow to pay $10 million surety bond by January 23.
    I don’t quite understand what a surety bond is, but reading the document it seems as though the judge believes this case will cost the taxpayers if the project doesn’t move forward. In other words, in lieu of tax dollars resulting from development, the plaintiffs have to pay. Long story short, this piece of litigation isn’t likely to slow the stadium and downtown east project any longer.

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