Park Board temporarily changes course on tailgating at East River Flats

After pushback from Gophers football fans, parking and tailgating will be allowed this season.

Billy Werb, left, enjoys the company of other alumni at the East River Flats on Saturday, Sept. 14. Werb created signs urging other residents to speak up to the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board to continue to permit tailgating on football game days.

Mrunal Zambre

Billy Werb, left, enjoys the company of other alumni at the East River Flats on Saturday, Sept. 14. Werb created signs urging other residents to speak up to the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board to continue to permit tailgating on football game days.

Emma Dill

Amid pushback from fans, a decision to limit parking and tailgating at East River Flats on Gophers football game days was temporarily reversed last month.

The Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board announced a ban on parking and tailgating on the park’s green spaces via social media on Aug. 27, two days before this season’s first Gophers football game. Under the ban, tailgaters could only park in the park’s paved lot. The board reversed the decision less than four hours later after receiving overwhelmingly negative feedback.

MPRB decided parking and tailgating at East River Flats was “no longer sustainable” after consulting multiple stakeholders, wrote MPRB Communications Director Dawn Sommers in an email to the Minnesota Daily. Sommers cited parking restrictions, concerns about land conditions, policing expenses and varying crowd sizes as contributing factors. 

On Saturday around 1 p.m., approximately 100 cars were parked on green spaces at East River Flats with about 45 more cars parked on paved surfaces. 

Mary Stepnick, a 2006 University of Minnesota graduate, has been tailgating at East River Flats for eight years. She arrived at 7 a.m. Saturday to set up her tailgating area. 

Stepnick said her tailgating group and others use East River Flats as a gathering place, which she sees as the role of a park.

“We’re using the park like a park. It’s just that our cars are also here too,” she said. “It’s not like we’re just driving down and having our cars hang out for the game.”

Stepnick said East River Flats’s parking fee of $10 provides tailgaters with an affordable experience not available in tailgating spots closer to TCF Bank Stadium. She believes that fans would pay more than the current parking fee to tailgate at East River Flats.

“[MPRB] could double whatever they’re making now with no impact and no loss of cars,” Stepnick said. “They’re setting the price point.”

Billy Werb has been parking and tailgating at East River Flats since he graduated from the University in 2011. After being frustrated by the Park Board’s initial decision, Werb printed yard signs supporting continued tailgating in the area. On Saturday the signs were posted beside several tailgating tents. 

Werb said although the announcement’s timing two days before the season kicked off may have fueled some of the pushback, fans would have expressed their frustration even if it had been announced earlier. 

“I think people would be equally upset about the decision either way,” he said. “But the timing was especially disappointing.”

Sommers wrote that MPRB officials will consider the issue over the winter and announce a decision of whether or not to reinstate the ban in the spring.

Nick Walsh, a 2004 University graduate, said he would be open to paying more and taking steps to accommodate MPRB and other groups who use the area.

Walsh said he hopes the decision-making process will include opportunities for public input.

“What we want is a conversation,” he said. “I’m hoping at the end of the day … that we can find a middle ground.”