A contentious series of athletic field land-lease negotiations involving the city of Blaine and the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) have finally ended.
Council members reacted favorably last week after City Manager Clark Arneson’s presentation of a proposed term sheet that brought the parties into agreement on key issues.
Services discussed during the March 15 Blaine City Council meeting included Spring Lake Park-Blaine-Mounds View (SBM) airport fire service, resurfacing of Xylite Street, sewer and water maintenance on Anoka County-Blaine Airport property and a land lease for the 49-acre Airport Park and Blaine Soccer Complex.
The MAC will pay $6,000 annually for 10 years of fire protection services and $12,500 annually for sewer and water maintenance.
The MAC will also pay a one-time assessment fee of $33,000 to the city for Xylite Street resurfacing.
The city will pay $50,000 annually to lease athletic fields owned by the MAC for three years under to two, single-year renewals exercised at the city and MAC’s mutual option.
The city will collect $37,500 in field user fees and give them the MAC.
Discussion of possible placement of revenue-generating outdoor advertising signs on airport property were included in the term sheet reviewed March 15.
The term sheet also addresses possible redevelopment of two MAC-owned parcels. One is at the northeast corner of Radisson Road and 105th Avenue and the other is near Airport Road and Highway 10.
The southern Parcel 60 is undeveloped but the 4 to 5-acre parcel to the north is part of the Blaine Soccer Complex.
In 1982, Blaine and the MAC entered into a license agreement that allowed the city to use MAC property at the corner of Radisson Road and 105th Avenue for recreational use.
That agreement was modified in 1985, adding 10 acres, and in 2002 the field lease was renewed at an annual fee of $600.
In 2006, MAC commissioners determined its reliever airports should strive to be more self sufficient, in part by being more aggressive in pursuing non-aeronautical revenue.
Gary Schmidt, the MAC’s director of reliever airports, and Tom Anderson, the MAC’s general legal counsel, were in attendance at last week’s meeting.
“Our relievers were not operating in the black,” Anderson said. “When our 2005 lawsuit with Northwest Airlines was settled, our commissioners decided MAC aeronautical tenants would pay more and that we needed to find other sources of revenue.”
Councilmember Russ Herbst asked if the MAC had accepted non-government entity sources of rent.
“The goal is to work with the city, but the National Sports Center (NSC) was willing to sign a lease as well,” Anderson said.
Earlier this year, the MAC stood ready to drop its long-standing athletic field lease with the city of Blaine as well as the $600 annual payment.
That’s because the Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission (MASC), which owns the NSC, announced it was willing pay the MAC $50,000 annually to use the athletic fields.
“We will have to lease this [property but] it seems like an exorbitant amount of rent to me,” Herbst said. “We have youth [and athletic associations] left hanging. [And] it will cost them more. I’m not blaming you guys at the MAC. We are pretty much hung over a chopping block. This leaves a hard taste in our mouths.”
Conversely, Mayor Tom Ryan said the city paying $600 didn’t make sense.
“It’s got to be done. I wish we were still at $600 but that’s not realistic. Down the road, we will have to look at this and see where we want to go,” Ryan said, referring to the possibility of the city developing additional athletic fields.
Councilmember Mike Bourke asked about the fair market value of the MAC athletic field property.
He wanted a bottom line number or the city’s true cost for the agreement.
Arneson said the MAC property had $120,000 appraised value, but offered a cost reduction of $70,000 as a sign of “community goodwill” on its appraisal to bring the price down.
“The land lease will cost the city $50,000, and we have a 2012 SBM airport fire services agreement of $24,000. Since Blaine pays 75 percent of that fire service total as one member of a three-city entity, we need to come up with $18,000. The agreement in front of you tonight makes it whole.”
Councilmember Dick Swanson said the city could just subsidize the SBM fire agreement and not be involved with land leasing.
Arneson pointed out Anoka County-Blaine Airport hangar tenants pay $180,000 in property taxes to the city of Blaine.
Councilmember Dave Clark wanted to directly address the fire service.
“Let’s talk turkey here,” Clark said. “The MAC wants to solve the fire service issue. Everybody at this [city council] dais is willing to bite the bullet to make it happen.”
Clark told Schmidt he was worried about the Blaine Soccer Club not having enough time to plan if the city and the MAC terminated their agreement.
Swanson said he would support the term sheet, but wasn’t happy with the 10 years on fire service, the three-year athletic field leasing or outdoor billboards.
“Parcel 60 impacts my neighborhood,” Swanson said. “I don’t want it to be automatic.”
Herbst then replied: “The bottom line is they have the hammer, Dick.”
Blaine Soccer Club Board Member Rick Fetter addressed the city council during the March 15 term sheet discussion.
He urged the city to consider additional field space.
“Our growth over last five years is a concern,” Fetter said. “Our number of traveling teams have doubled. Now we have two or three teams using the same field during practices. We are hurting for space.”
Fetter suggested the city actively pursue development of a proposed Lexington Avenue athletic facility.
Arneson said the city is currently negotiating a purchase of 40 acres near the former Finn Farm site. He said the city expects to obtain the land later this year.
Three to four fields for youth baseball, and youth and adult softball and five-multi-use fields for football, soccer and lacrosse, a full basketball court, four lighted tennis courts could be ready for use in September 2014, Arneson said.
Fetter replied: “We better get started. Any risk to Airport Park needs to be addressed.”
The MAC Board of Commissioners was scheduled to review the athletic field and fire service term sheet Monday night (March 19) after an update from Schmidt.
“The big step here is we have an agreement, and we will have kids playing soccer April 1,” Arneson said Friday in a follow-up interview. “That’s in everybody’s best interest.”
Jim Kappelhoff, Blaine’s park and recreation director, agreed. “This agreement gives us time to breath,” Kappelhoff said. “We’re moving forward.”
Tim Hennagir is at email@example.com