Local Current Blog

Paisley Park: What went wrong?

Fans at Paisley Park in July 2016, before the memorial offerings were taken down (Jay Gabler/MPR)

Yesterday evening, fans around the world were packing for trips to Minnesota — tickets in hand to tour Paisley Park starting at 9 a.m. on Thursday, when it was scheduled to open for public tours. Journalists were prepping for media tours on Wednesday, which was to begin with a Today tour and an Al Roker interview with Tyka Nelson. Fans attending next week’s star-studded tribute concert were planning to make Paisley Park tours part of their Prince memorial experience.

Then, late last night, everything changed. The Chanhassen City Council, in a surprise 3-2 vote, tabled a measure that would have rezoned Paisley Park for use as a museum. Without the rezoning, the venue can’t legally open for business as a museum. Suddenly, everyone was scrambling to adjust to the new reality, and they’re still scrambling.

What went wrong? Why didn’t anybody see this coming? What happened during those three hours and 45 minutes that led a majority of Chanhassen’s City Council to decide that it was worth the inconvenience of postponing the opening to be sure that, in the words of council member Bethany Tjornhom, they “get this right”?

Complete video of the meeting is available on the city’s website. Here, from that video, are highlights of the discussion.

Traffic and safety

The impact of a Paisley Park museum on local traffic was a major subject of discussion. Under the proposed agreement, noted city manager Todd Gerhardt, the venue would have one year to expand its on-site parking lot. In the meantime, “they are going to have to bus patrons into the site. And they have arranged offsite parking and have hired a bus service to bring individuals who are going to go on the tours into buses through Paisley Park.”

Paul Oehme, the city’s director of public works, acknowledged that at rush hours, that could lead to a “queuing issue”: “basically a backup on Highway 5 at the weekday peak period timeframe.”

Tjornhom said she was “a little concerned that the traffic study really wasn’t given enough time or thought or consideration when it came to the impact of the neighborhood.”

Pedestrian safety was another concern, in the wake of several months during which a near-constant flow of people have been parking near Paisley Park and walking up to the fence to pay their respects. Council member Jerry McDonald said he wanted to see a plan for discouraging pedestrian traffic.

“I look for positive reinforcements to tell people, ‘This is not a parking lot so you can walk across the street and view Paisley Park,'” said McDonald. “If we’re going to set this up for a museum, all I’m asking for is how do we make sure that pedestrians are safe, and part of that could be, ‘you can’t walk across the road, and you can’t walk north, south, up and down the fence.’ That’s a perfectly acceptable answer; I just need to hear it from somebody that that’s what your plan is. Because otherwise, you’ve left something open that is ambiguous, and every time you do that, you know that someone is going to be crossing the road and they’re going to expect, ‘Well, that’s what they want me to do.'”


The biggest buzz leading up to the meeting wasn’t over whether the rezoning would be approved — it was over whether the proprietors planned to build an opaque fence, as they had requested permission to do. The request sparked a protest among fans who didn’t want a “wall” built around the property, and were disappointed to see they were being discouraged from continuing to leave memorial items. One fan brought items she said were left in the mud, asking for a designated spot where items can be left.

At the meeting, Kim Huston — who led the charge to prevent an opaque fence being built — said, “Several people have stated that if a wall goes up, they will not come.”

Prior to the meeting, Paisley Park clarified that there were no present plans to build a new fence. At the meeting, Kate Aanenson, the city’s community development director, noted that “Nobody is requiring them to put up a fence. We want to put that as an option because, if they were to do something that’s different than what’s out there today, they would need variances. Instead of coming back through a public hearing through a variance, we want to put everybody on notice now that that could be. Certainly it’s not their first choice; we’ve heard from a lot of people on that.”

Aanenson said that “nobody definitely wants an opaque fence,” but noted that they had to be aware of potential safety issues involving cars being tempted to slow down and take a look while passing the venue.

Too soon?

One thread of comments suggested that an October opening is simply too soon after Prince’s April death to invite public tours. “He hasn’t been gone six months,” said one local resident who opposed the museum’s imminent opening. “He died inside of Paisley Park.”

“April 21st was less than six months ago,” said Huston. “Fans from all over the world are still grieving, having not been able to properly pay their respects, so we created our own [memorial] with fans bringing gifts and using their artistic abilities to share with Prince the way they feel and leaving gifts for him. It is also important to note Graceland [opened to the public] five years after Elvis passed away, and those fans had years to mourn the way they wanted to.”

Another community member noted that “Prince was a perfectionist in everything he did: in the music, in the concerts, in every time he invited us into his home. It was about the experience of the people that came…when you went to his show, he was concerned about your experience. If it’s going to have Prince’s name on it, it should live up to Prince’s standards. And what they’re doing does not. It feels like the sole objective is to turn a quick dollar and not to preserve his legacy.”

Council member Jerry McDonald echoed the theme, pointing not to sentiment but to logistics. “It is way too soon after Prince’s death to try to say ‘we’re gonna do this,'” said McDonald. “This takes time and planning, and I don’t see that taking place here so that’s why I have a real problem with the motion.”

Reassurances from Paisley Park

Staff from Paisley Park, including representatives of Graceland Holdings and the Bremer Trust, were on hand to address community concerns. Their message: we’re honoring Prince’s wishes, we’re preserving the property, and we can do this safely.

“I would never, ever touch a building on this property,” said the venue’s managing partner, Joel Weinshanker. “I would never add a building on this property, I would never take away a building on this property. This is the way that Prince built it.”

By way of example, Weinshanker explained how they’re even preserving the carpet Prince installed. “If you came in and remember the carpet, the carpet was the original carpet, but if we had just left it there, it would have been decimated. So what we did is we had a company reproduce the carpet and we put that carpet on top of the original carpet because it was installed in a commercial way that it was just glued. So it would have been destroyed if we tried to pull it up. Even the carpeting, we’re not moving…this is the way Prince wanted it, and this is the way it’s going to be kept.”

Weinshanker also emphasized that the building “was designed for people to tour,” and that in fact Prince’s own staff had previously offered limited tours. He added that “we’re not promoting people coming without a ticket,” a measure intended to control traffic around the venue and keep the flow of fans slow and steady. Pointing out that the venue has been successfully working to reduce unscheduled traffic — through measures including removing memorials from the exterior fence — Weinshanker said the venue’s current management want to be as good to their neighbors as Prince himself was.

A consultant working with the Bremer Trust said, “The purpose of the museum at Paisley Park is to preserve the legacy of an international celebrity who chose Chanhassen as his home and the people of Chanhassen as his neighbors. Paisley Park itself is a unique facility within the music industry because it represents all the work of one of the most recognized, international, artistic celebrities of our time. A museum at Paisley Park is the only appropriate location to commemorate the work and the life of Prince. Chanhassen is where he built his legacy, Chanhassen is surely where he’d want it preserved. Preserving that legacy means not only honoring his extraordinary work, but also representing the neighbor that he was within Chanhassen.”

A vote to table

After hours of discussion, Tjornhom moved to table the proposal. “I think that we have one chance to get this right,” she said, “and for a community being rushed into such a major decision, I just don’t think we’re being good stewards and good representation to our citizens. We still have way more questions than we have answers.”

“I would count myself as a Prince fan as well,” said council member Dan Campion, “and I would like to see the museum go forward. I do, though, share the sentiments that it would be nice to have more time to work through more of the details.”

Mayor Denny Laufenburger, who had publicly supported the museum, argued for the council to move ahead with the rezoning immediately. “I have concerns, too,” he said. “I had concerns on April 21st: would the city staff be prepared for the visitors who come to Chanhassen? And clearly, evidence shows that we as a city performed remarkably.” Laufenburger said he had “yet to hear what I think is a real valid concern about what a delay will give us.”

In the end, Campion and Elise Ryan joined Tjornhom in voting to table. Laufenburger and McDonald cast the two minority votes, and the rezoning proposal was tabled.

Daniel Nass and Hanna Bubser contributed reporting to this article.