Celebration marks opening of the Commons park near stadium

Meet downtown’s new front yard. Frisbees, food trucks and dancers welcomed visitors Thursday to the Commons, a lush new park in front of U.S. Bank Stadium that planners hope will become a lively centerpiece of that evolving corner of downtown Minneapolis.

There are lingering issues over how to pay for the 4.2-acre park’s maintenance. But its completion celebration is also raising some lighter questions. Namely, can parkgoers bring a bottle of chardonnay?

“I feel strongly that sipping a wine or slugging a beer in the Commons while watching a movie is a major asset. And [I told city staff] let’s check it out,” said City Council Member Jacob Frey, the project’s chief cheerleader.

Allowing people to bring alcohol would differ with strict — if frequently broken — park rules in Minneapolis and around the Twin Cities metro area. The city’s semi-independent Park Board allows alcohol to be sold and consumed at designated concessions, but drinking your own booze is generally illegal.

Since the Commons is the first major park controlled by City Hall, rather than the Park Board, Frey is pushing for new city rules on alcohol there. The city bars drinking in public, and existing event permits are geared around selling or distributing alcohol.

“I just got back from Paris on my honeymoon. And the culture of sipping some wine and eating a baguette and cheese on the riverbank — I mean, it works,” Frey said.

There is precedent in other cities. The Commons has sometimes been compared to Millennium Park in Chicago, where people can bring alcohol to the pavilion area during events.

The idea is still in its infancy, but it appeared to have support from some council members at Thursday’s opening.

The Commons park isn’t entirely finished. Only one block of the nearly two-block space, closest to the Vikings stadium, has been opened to the public. It is dominated by a circular “Great Lawn” in place of what was once the Star Tribune’s headquarters. The remaining block, which also features an apartment building, is expected to open in August.

Mary Margaret Jones with Hargreaves Associates, the park’s designer, highlighted the dramatic difference between “this awesome open space for play and then in the other block, a more intimate system of valleys and hills and trees and shade.”

Speakers at Thursday’s event heralded the project as much more than just a park.

“It’s a place to celebrate,” said Pat Ryan, CEO of Ryan Companies, which built the park.

Mayor Betsy Hodges told the crowd she “can’t stop smiling.”

“It’s public space like this and investment in the public good, which is why so many people are interested in and investing in the city of Minneapolis,” she said.

The park has cost approximately $30 million to create. About $20 million of that is expected to be repaid through parking revenue from two nearby ramps, and the rest largely has been covered through private fundraising.

Several amenities were eliminated until more private money can be raised, including a concessions building and a water plaza. Those may be installed later.

The city estimates that the park will cost about $1.9 million to operate in its first year.

Private fundraising will cover early operations costs, but long-term funding sources haven’t been identified.

The park will host activities this weekend in conjunction with the stadium opening, including outdoor movies Saturday and Sunday.


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