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Mary Weaver, a proponent of preserving Arbor Park, sits on a bench at 15 S. Fourth St. She argues that the park is "work of art" worth preserving in and of itself. (Herald photo/Sam Easter)

Arbor Park backer pitches City Council land deal to save downtown space

Arbor Park backers pulled their second surprise move in as many weeks on Monday night, offering the City Council property to relocate the condo building that's set to replace the Grand Forks pocket park.

Mary Weaver, an outspoken park proponent, asked the council to consider moving the condo project to 425 Kittson Ave. That's about a block to the south on a grassy field next to Centennial Park—the modest space with a clock tower on the corner of Kittson Avenue and South Fifth Street.

It's a place park backers have pointed out before, but on Monday Weaver came with something more: a signed note from the alternate property's owner offering to donate his land in exchange for preserving Arbor Park.

"It would relieve the city and the taxpayers of the burden of the costs of moving the art, storing the art, relocating the art and reconstructing the park," Weaver told the council, while preserving many of the location's benefits. "Arbor Park wouldn't have to be destroyed."

Keith Danks, Sr., listed as the owner on the documents Weaver provided, couldn't be reached for comment.

City Administrator Todd Feland has previously estimated the current cost of preserving the park at about $20,000 annually, including utilities, city services and special assessments. Monday evening, he said the process of removing the art has been quoted as high as $90,000, but that he believes city and Park District officials can do the work for substantially less.

Weaver spoke moments before the council cast a 7-0 vote approving state and local tax incentives for the Arbor Park development. Those benefits, which are permitted due to the project's location in a special downtown zone, are expected pending state approval.

Weaver's proposal is the latest in a back-and-forth between Arbor Park supporters and those who back a five-story, $7 million-plus condo project on the site. Last week, Weaver—along with roughly two dozen others—sued the city to void a June 20 election that decided the park's fate. As a result of the June 20 vote, a ballot initiative to preserve the park championed by Weaver and others failed 2,451-2,271, clearing the way for construction.

The suit argues the city exceeded its authority when it held all the voting at the Alerus Center, which plaintiffs say isn't explicitly permitted in the City Charter. It also claims the city incorrectly voided two absentee ballots.

Plaintiffs listed in the suit include Weaver, Donald Poochigian, O'Dale Brown, Barbara Collins, Abigail Collins, David Haberman, Gordon Iseminger, Troy Fugate, Elaine Lewandowski-Johnson, Bailey Bubach, Angela Nagle, Lorrie Bulmer, Ron Franz, Concetta Renna, Veronica Dockter, Leigh Jeanotte, James Schothorst, Lisa Carney, C.T. Marhula, Alex Fornes, Deborah Hildebrandt, William Lubitz and Ralph Honda.

Weaver said Monday that four council members' wards voted in favor of preserving Arbor Park—Wards 1, 2, 3 and 4—and her proposal's requirements for receiving 425 Kittson Ave. requires the council to offer no resistance to the lawsuit contesting the vote's result.

City Council President Dana Sande said the "ship has sailed" for such a land deal. Council member Bret Weber, whose ward voted on June 20 in favor of keeping Arbor Park—the opposite of the result—said the election is in the past.

"As far as presenting an alternative to the development at Arbor Park, it doesn't make sense," Weber said.

Other business

• City leaders also began discussion of a local sales tax bump, reviewing new City Charter language that would allow the shift. The increase is currently pegged at 0.5 percent for 20 years for local water and street projects, and is expected to be debated through August before being sent to voters for approval later this year.