Blaine athletic field leasing agreement saga continues

by Tim Hennagir
Life Editor

Blaine council members have upped the ante in a contentious athletic field leasing saga that involves the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC).

City leaders recently directed staff to start developing contingency plans to recover park equipment if Blaine isn’t successful with current leasing negotiations.  A search also will begin for additional soccer field practice space within the city.

Both actions were unanimously approved Jan. 19.

The MAC stands ready to drop its long-standing athletic field lease with the city of Blaine as well as a $600 annual payment.

That’s because the Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission (MASC), which owns the National Sports Center (NSC), is willing to pay the MAC $50,000 annually to use the land.

In years three through five of a proposed MAC and NSC 25-year contract, that fee would be escalated at 2 percent then 3 percent.

Latest city moves

Councilmember Dave Clark introduced the two motions near the end of last week’s meeting, as part of the “Other Business” portion of the council’s agenda.

The council’s direction to staff was a follow-up to a Jan. 12 workshop. Clark brought the Airport Park and Blaine Soccer Complex lease up for discussion.

“We are better served if the city retains control of the fields and negotiates a user agreement from a point of strength,” he said.

According to City Manager Clark Arneson, under any lease scenario that develops, the MAC and the NSC will have a ground lease.

Arneson said the parking lot for the Victory Links Golf Course is included in the contested park acreage. “Whether or not we negotiate with the MAC for the ball fields, there will be an lease extension between the MAC and the NSC.

There also needs to be a field usage agreement between the city of Blaine and the NSC,” Arneson said.

Possible bargaining chip?

Clark said he was willing to give up a recently negotiated $24,000, one-year agreement between the MAC and Spring Lake Park-Blaine-Mounds View Fire Department (SBM).

“If we say there’s no way we are giving up the $24,000 for airport fire protection, then the situation is going to escalate,” Clark said.

Swanson asked Clark if he would be willing to reimburse SBM if the fire service agreement becomes a negotiation chip to toss.

Clark said the city might have to make that happen.

“It’s a competitive bidding situation,” Clark said last week. “We need to be able to take equipment and reallocate it. We have a lot invested there. I don’t want it to go to waste.” Councilmember Mike Bourke seconded Clark’s motion.

Chain-link fence, park signage, bleachers and equipment in the blue concession building that sits on MAC property were mentioned by Clark as possible items the city might move.

The concession building’s status is a key issue in athletic lease negotiations.

Concession building key

Robert Therres, public services manager, said Monday the Blaine Soccer Complex building cost $457,000 to build.

That cost was offset by a $128,000 Blaine Soccer Club donation, leaving the city with a $329,000 asset.

During discussion, Councilmember Katherine Kolb asked if the concession building could be moved.

“Could that be part of the plan?” she asked.

Bourke suggested a more drastic measure. “You could demo it,” Bourke said, prompting Councilmember Dick Swanson to comment such action would have to be carefully considered.

Clark then offered his second motion, adding soccer field practice space would be one way of taking pressure off existing fields.

“The NSC and the Blaine Soccer Club have fields that are getting a lot of use,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be a game field, just a place for teams to practice.”

Another field alternative?

Mayor Tom Ryan suggested the city look at the Jim Peterson Athletic Complex, a recently completed 22.4-acre park at 12302 Cloud Drive that features four tennis courts, two regulation soccer and football fields, two baseball fields and a basketball court.

Ryan also mentioned a past bleacher agreement the city had to share fields at Blaine High School.

Therres said this week staff is researching the exact terms of that agreement and its historical context.

Clark suggested that city staff be ready to bring an equipment contingency plan and practice field information back to council at March workshop.

During the council’s Jan. 12 workshop. Clark said he was not comfortable with the NSC being in control of the athletic fields.

Arneson said that he had been negotiating with the MAC and Gary Schmidt, director of reliever airports, for the past six months.

Arneson also said staff wanted to reach a field leasing agreement by April 1.

Airport commission action

“It is a very complicated and difficult set of issues,” Arneson said. “To me, the action that the MAC took [Jan. 3] was premature.”

Arneson was referring to Schmidt’s presentation of the proposed NSC leasing agreement during a MAC management and operations committee meeting.

While that subcommittee approved and recommended airport commissioners consider the lease amendment, Schmidt said this week commissioners referred his recommendation back to committee for further review in February.

Schmidt said the MAC sent the city of Blaine a counter-proposal Jan. 17.

“When we met with Blaine and Paul Erickson, MASC executive director, both expressed a need to get this done before April,” Schmidt said. “To be honest, both parties are going to have to bite the bullet and try and sit down and work it out. We hope to have it resolved by April 1 or before.”

NSC, MAC had meetings

Barclay Kruse is the NSC’s chief communications officer and a MASC associate director.

In a recent interview, he confirmed earlier NSC-MAC meeting dates related to that proposed lease.

“In September, we met with the MAC to wrap up Victory Links Golf Course operations for the year,” Kruse said. “The MAC told us after three years of trying, they had reached a point where they were really frustrated with the city and could not reach a soccer complex agreement.”

Kruse said the terms in Schmidt’s Jan. 3 memo to the MAC management and operations committee “firmed up” during a Nov. 3 meeting of the two parties.

According to Kruse, NSC and MASC staff continue to ask this question:

Why did Blaine invest so much money in more or less permanent infrastructure over a number of years into property it didn’t control?

“We don’t want to be drawn as a guilty party because there’s the blue concession building sitting there,” he said. “We have to recover whatever lease payment cost we have to the MAC if we do the deal.”

Tim Hennagir is at [email protected]