Residents criticize volleyball arena plan

Pam Steinle

J. D. Pride, a former Gophers athlete, is back for round two against area residents near Washington Avenue on the West Bank.
In 1997, Pride’s proposal to build a volleyball complex was strongly opposed by local residents and later rejected by the park board. Now Pride is again awaiting a Nov. 17 park board decision regarding an even larger volleyball plaza.
This September, Pride requested a building permit for a nine-court West Bank volleyball complex in the grassy area below and just north of Washington Avenue. The city would pay to develop the site, then hand it over to Pride for his private use.
But the project has run into the same opposition it did two years ago.
Area residents are concerned about the plaza’s effect on the environment as well as potential traffic and noise disturbances. Pride’s plans to serve 3.2 beer were also poorly received.
Doreen Bower, president of the Seven Corners’ West Bank Community Coalition, said her top concern was potential damage to the riverfront’s natural habitat.
A few years ago, the neighborhood collaborated with the park board to encourage growth of native plant species along the river.
In Bower’s opinion, the volleyball complex would invariably destroy progress with the plants.
Fellow community-coalition member and area resident Tom Youngblood also voiced his frustration with the project.
“We feel it’s inappropriate to make a private profit on public land for a use the neighborhood does not support,” Youngblood said. “What kind of person would be foolish enough — after being turned down once before for a much smaller version of this project — to come back and ask for an even larger version of the same thing?”
Bower and Youngblood have led the community protest by speaking at park board meetings as well as writing and calling board members. Dean Zimmerman, the area’s elected park board representative, and Minneapolis City Council member Joan Campbell take a similar stance.
“I don’t think it’s going to fly,” Zimmerman said. “I don’t want to clutter up this area anymore. I want to keep it natural.”
Campbell cited alcohol usage and other plaza activities as inappropriate. She would rather have runners, walkers and “passive activity” in the park system.
“I think the park board would be foolish to pass this,” she said.
Pride declined to comment on his project and deferred all inquiries to the park board.
Don Siggelkow, the city’s assistant superintendent for development, said that while all aspects of the issue are being reviewed, he has yet to see many positive aspects.
“This proposal includes a financial plus, but the neighborhood comments, environmental issues and investment risks vs. the payback aren’t enough to justify it,” Siggelkow said.
Some students expressed their attachment to the peaceful scene north of the Washington Avenue Bridge and are hesitant to replace it with volleyball courts. Furthermore, they said students would have little use for the courts given other gyms on and off campus.
Tran Muehler, a University sophomore residing in North Minneapolis, said a volleyball complex would be problematic.
“The scene is so picturesque, and the complex would diminish the peacefulness,” she said. “Expansion is good, but not here.”