Minneapolis Park Board President Jono Cowgill vowed to resurrect a $5.1 million proposal to rebuild the Bde Maka Ska pavilion, after it was unexpectedly canceled in committee last week despite a monthslong public engagement process and tens of thousands of dollars spent.
Park Board staff recently presented plans to replace the former site of Lola's on the Lake, which had been one of the park system's most popular attractions before burning down in a $2 million hookah fire in 2019.
The new pavilion would be built in the same spot on the northeast side of the lake with a large vendor hall, all-gender bathroom, performance nook and steps leading into the water. The project had been pitched to seven neighborhood organizations. More than 500 people responded to an online survey.
But the project died in planning committee on May 5 when Commissioner Meg Forney objected to the proposed location.
Congestion caused by a cluster of amenities on the northeast side of the lake, near Uptown, had been a major focal point of the 2017 Bde Maka Ska-Harriet Master Plan. That corner had a sailing school, boat launch, Wheel Fun rentals as well as the lake's only concessions. The master plan called for relocating the sailing school to the northwest corner, where it would have more room.
But when the unexpected destruction of the Bde Maka Ska pavilion meant it had to be rebuilt for millions, the Park Board couldn't afford to do both, said Michael Schroeder, assistant superintendent of planning.
Forney proposed moving the second iteration of the pavilion to the northwest corner instead. "The main thrust of the master plan was to share the wealth," she argued. "Although nobody anticipated the loss of the refectory, it has happened. … Instead of looking at it as a loss and something catastrophic, this is a huge opportunity for us."
Commissioner LaTrisha Vetaw supported Forney's motion to table the issue, but they were defeated by Planning Committee Chairman Chris Meyer, Steffanie Musich and Londel French.
When it came time to vote on the underlying pavilion concept, French switched sides without discussion, voting with Forney and Vetaw to kill the proposal. French did not respond to a request for comment.
"I thought the staff recommendation was good. I'm disappointed that it didn't move forward," said Meyer following the meeting. He said he wanted to renew the issue for another vote, but didn't know what changes to the proposal would command majority support on the planning committee.
Cowgill, also the district commissioner for the pavilion, said he plans to reintroduce the issue for reconsideration by the full board, but hasn't decided when. "I personally am supportive of getting it through as soon as possible," he said.
Staff currently have no direction to proceed. Pavilion plans would have incorporated reconstruction of nearby trails to reduce traffic congestion near the boat launch, Schroeder said.
"We were doing things to reduce congestion. They might not have been as dramatic as moving a facility to another part of the lake, but there were things we have been and we are planning on doing," he said.
"We are also beginning to figure out what else we might do, whether we come back with a different concept, whether we ask commissioners to fund a different kind of exercise that would look at both quadrants of the lake to figure out how we might do this."
Last December, the Park Board approved a design contract with Cuningham Group for $216,895 with the project understanding that the new pavilion would be rebuilt in the same place. About 30% of the design fee has been expended so far, Schroeder said.
Lola's on the Lake, which is halfway into a five-year lease with the Park Board, continues to operate food trucks at the site of the old pavilion. Skateboarders, performers and picnickers frequent the site.
During the public hearing for the pavilion on May 5, some members of the public asked commissioners to scrap the project and leave the area open for interpretation. A Change.org petition to save the unofficial skate park has gathered more than 1,400 signatures.
Insurance claims, the Metropolitan Council and park dedication fees account for about half of the pavilion's estimated cost. Staff have not yet identified funding sources for $2.5 million of the project.
Susan Du • 612-673-4028