City e-mails show the aftermath of the death of Prince

By Mike Kaszuba

On the day after Prince died last year, Chanhassen’s mayor was very much in demand.

CNN, the cable news network, wanted Mayor Denny Laufenburger to appear on Wolf Blitzer’s show to talk about what the Minnesota music legend had meant to the city.  Prince had lived in the Minneapolis suburb for many years, and in the aftermath of his sudden death, the city drafted a statement saying it was “very proud that he called Chanhassen his home.”

But before going on the air, Chanhassen’s mayor privately told CNN that he did not really know Prince – an admission that went to the heart of the city’s complicated relationship with the reclusive singer and songwriter.

“I did meet him on an airplane about 20 years ago.  Before my role as mayor.  Brief greet.  Nothing of consequence to him . . . but big to me,” the mayor wrote in an e-mail to CNN.  “He owns a lot of land in Chan,” the mayor added.  The mayor’s e-mail noted that the city would likely commemorate Prince’s ties to Chanhassen with something like a “statue, park, public space.  Hate to say the phrase Graceland, but something is in store.”

A review of more than 2,000 city documents and e-mails by Public Record Media, a St. Paul non-profit, shows that city officials appear to have had limited contact with the singer/songwriter over the course of time.  They also appear to have had occasional frustrations in dealing with Paisley Park.

Sparse contact between Prince, Paisley Park, and city

A month before Prince was found dead, a city official was asked by e-mail about how to get in touch with managers at Paisley Park.  ‘It’s pretty tough to get a hold of anyone over there,” replied Chelsea Petersen, the city’s assistant city manager, on March 9th of last year.

A similar exchange occurred in October of 2015, roughly six months before his death.  A local school official asked Todd Gerhardt, Chanhassen’s city manager, about contacting Prince to try to get the singer involved with an arts academy.  “I hope you were kidding,” Gerhardt replied.  “He does not get involved in local programs.”  Gerhardt, who has been Chanhassen’s city manager since 2001, told PRM he had never met Prince.

At roughly the same time, Prince seemed to catch local government officials off guard in September 2015 when he announced a surprise three-day concert at Paisley Park over the Labor Day weekend.

“Just looking at it now,” Lt. Eric Kittleson wrote on September 2nd, after he was sent an announcement about the concert two days before the event.  Kittleson served as the liaison between the Carver County Sheriff’s Office and the city of Chanhassen, which contracts with the county for police protection.

E-mails indicate that Chanhassen fire chief Don Johnson had his own questions regarding the event.  “Are you okay with this?” Johnson asked Mark Littfin, the city’s fire marshal.

City receives requests after Prince’s death

City correspondence also reveals that almost immediately after Prince’s death, Chanhassen officials were confronted by a wide and varied array of requests.

For instance, Chanhassen’s park and recreation director received an e-mail one week after Prince’s death which read, “I know this is really too soon … But I hope there have been some discussions about the city purchasing Prince’s property off of Galpin Blvd.”

Gerhardt, the city manager, had in fact discouraged another person who had inquired about the property more than a year before Prince’s death.  “The city was asked by his people not to refer potential buyers to them,” Gerhardt wrote in a February 2015 e-mail.  “His property is not for sale.  He has the ability and the means to hold his property.”

Just six days after the tragedy, the city was contacted about hosting a “Race to Paisley Park” – on April 21, 2017, the one-year anniversary of his death.  “Strong Enough is the name of the race management business that my husband Steve and I own,” Tosha Hokanson wrote in an e-mail to the city.  “We built it based on the bible verse Phil 4:13 ‘I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.’  [We] exist to bring communities together in love, health, purpose and togetherness,” she added. “This event is to bring honor to [Prince], his family, what he stood for and to all people.”

Two months later, as Hokanson pursued her plan for the race, she e-mailed a city official, asking: “Are there any issues with us using the name Paisley Park?”  The city’s park and recreation director Todd Hoffman replied: “I recommend that you consult with an attorney familiar with copyright law.”

In the weeks and months that followed, the requests continued.  A Norwegian news outlet wanted the floor plans for Paisley Park; the city replied that they were covered by copyright.  A woman wanted to know who to call about holding a wedding reception at Prince’s recording studio; the city said to talk to Paisley Park.  A group wanted to launch sky lanterns on city property to honor Prince; the city said they would create litter, were a fire hazard, and were likely against the law.  The American Music Awards wanted the city to buy advertising in a brochure for its annual awards ceremony; the city said it did not have enough money.  “Tell him thanks but no thanks,” the city manager wrote.

Nearly three weeks after Prince’s death, Hoffman told an official from a neighboring city that “we’re kicking a bunch of Prince t­-shirt sellers off of the public right of way on almost a daily basis,” as fans created ongoing traffice jams near Paisley Park.

Attempts to have the city endorse Prince tributes of all kinds continued through the summer.

“Just putting a bug in your ear since I know you are being deluged by the press as well as every Prince tribute known to man,” Melanie Moos of MJM Productions, Inc. wrote to the city in August.  But “CBO’s Purple Dance Party is ready to roll and people are asking for it.”

Water treatment plant suggested for Prince’s property

After Prince’s death, city manager Todd Gerhardt also addressed an attempt by citizens to place a water treatment facility on the singer’s property.

“The neighborhood still thinks that there is opportunity to plan the treatment plant within Prince’s property,” the city manager wrote in a September e-mail to a City Council member.  “Why we have not done this [is because] the property is not under the ownership of a developer.  If it was under one ownership we could look for opportunities like we did with the current location.”

“You can not just pick a spot for the water treatment plant and then plan the development around it – that is not a good planning process,” Gerhardt explained.  He subsequently told PRM that the plant is being built on another site, and not on Prince’s property.

Local officials respond to the death of Prince

On the day after the singer’s death, local school board official Timothy Klein told Chanhassen’s mayor that Prince “was a tremendous asset for the community and the world, [and] it would be nice to find an appropriate way to show our gratitude that such a tremendous global icon made our community his.”

As it sought city approval to turn Paisley Park into a museum, the managers of the recording studio also reminded city officials of Prince’s ties to the city.  “He chose Chanhassen as his home and the people of Chanhassen as his neighbors,” Pat Mazural, a consultant to Paisley Park’s managers, said at a city meeting.  “Chanhassen is where he built his legacy.  Chanhassen is surely where he would have wanted that legacy preserved.”

At one point, mayor Laufenburger seemed to suggest that Prince may have purchased a building in Chanhassen because it was linked to one of his signature songs. In an e-mail to CNN, the mayor wrote, “If asked about Prince holdings in Chan .. “I’d share about [a] building that he purchased in 2010.  This building is vacant and appears to be of no interest [or] have any plans … Curious, except the address number is prominently displayed on the building,” he added.  “The bldg. address. . .99.  Perhaps he had plans for something with one of his songs ‘1999.’”

A month after Prince’s death, Laufenburger offered more speculation regarding Prince, this time as he complimented the city’s reaction to the singer’s passing.  “We didn’t abuse the fact that this international artist and icon lived among us,” the mayor wrote.  “Perhaps that may be a significant reason he chose to stay here.”  In the same note, the mayor also added that he “was so pleased that the businesses of Chanhassen saw a meaningful uptick in business.”

Discussion about Paisley Park fence

Behind the scenes, the mayor also weighed in on other issues, including the fence surrounding Paisley Park.  Many fans had used the fence to leave notes and memorials after Prince’s death, and did not want the fence and its mementoes removed.  “Leave the fence as it is,” Laufenburger told a Paisley Park representative in late September.  “Observe to see what happens now that you’ve cleaned it.  Let the fans think they got a victory.”

“All this social media about the fence is simply passionate fans who simply do not understand the situation,” he added.  “I believe things will slow down, and then likely in late fall or early spring, you could make your fence change and it will be a little [blip] in the social media.”

City caught between fans, others

For most of the past year, city officials were caught between Prince’s many fans – who wanted the city to spare no effort to honor the recording star – and those who felt otherwise.

“When Prince was alive and performing, we often would hear him playing his music from our house,” Jennifer Singer wrote to the city as Paisley Park sought a zoning change to become a museum.  Singer asked, “Should we be expecting this type of noise [to continue]?”

As controversy swirled over the conversion of Paisley Park, the city put a pause on initial public tours of the facility.  In response, some fans vented their frustrations at the city.  “Just wanted to let you know that I am very disappointed that you ruined our trip to Paisley Park.  We have spent a ton of money flying people from New York and Indiana to take this tour,” Kim Hancock wrote to a city official in October.

Others simply lamented the loss of Prince, or responded to reports of his overdose from a painkiller.  “His loss is tragic and will have impact on the music world and our community for years.  His death could have been prevented had the need for secrecy and privacy not outweighed the need to get him help,” wrote Susan Davis, the executive director of Choices Psychotherapy, in a September e-mail.  “What this community needs is more clinics like mine.”

One person simply tweeted her blunt feelings.  “Now all Chan is gonna be famous for is shitty rich white people and the [Chanhassen] dinner theater.”

Difficulties with Paisley Park

In the meantime, the city was having its own difficulties with those managing Paisley Park after Prince’s death.

In August – four months after Prince died, – the city’s fire chief reminded Paisley Park representatives of the need to get a permit before hosting an event – if only to give the city a heads-up that something was happening.

“We realize that several of the categories listed on the permit may not apply to your event however, we would prefer you use that permit as a way to notify the city of special events related to Paisley Park,” Johnson, the fire chief, wrote in an e-mail.

City officials also moved to sharpen the lines between the city and Paisley Park in some areas – at one point asking Google to prevent the city’s phone number from appearing whenever anyone did an internet search for Paisley Park.  The city also turned down a request by Paisley Park to advertise a job fair at the recording studio on the city’s website.

“We’re not going to advertise their jobs,” Petersen, Chanhassen’s assistant city manager, told Gerhardt in September.

When Paisley Park arranged for the City Council to tour Paisley Park in late August – as the estate pushed for authorization to turn the facility into a museum — council members were told they could not bring cell phones, and had to provide their dates of birth as part of a security check.  At least initially, Paisley Park had also prohibited council members from bringing spouses on the tour.

Possible historic designation

The city was contacted in October by the Minnesota Historical Society (MHS), which informed the mayor that it was thinking of trying to place one of Prince’s properties on the National Register of Historic Places.  “Our goal is to learn which property best reflects Prince’s active life,” wrote Denis Gardner, the National Register historian at MHS.  “One of the properties which we are studying is Paisley Park.”

“I am certain many in Minnesota welcome the opportunity to see where Prince lived and created much of his music,” wrote Gardner, referencing the attempt to turn Paisley Park into a museum.

The idea was eventually rejected by an official at Bremer Trust, the court-appointed special administrator of Prince’s estate.  “At this point in the estate administration, it is not appropriate for Paisley Park to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places.  If/when the timing is right, we will be in contact,” Todd Phelps wrote on October 31st.

Discussions about Prince tribute band

Three months before Prince died, city officials in Chanhassen had been busy trying to honor Prince through a different route – by hiring a Prince tribute band for a summer concert in the city.

The city’s park and recreation director had in fact suggested the idea shortly before Prince’s birthday in June of 2015 – the year before the singer’s death.  “It is Prince’s [birthday] today,” Todd Hoffman wrote in an e-mail.  “We should consider a Prince cover band for next year’s concert series!”  From there, the project moved forward.

In a January 2016 e-mail, city recreation supervisor Katie Favro wrote to the Prince tribute band “Chase & Ovation.” “With Prince living in Chanhassen, I think the community would be thrilled to have you as part of our concert series,” she noted in her message.

The tribute band responded six days later, saying in an e-mail to the city that “the type of performance that Chase & Ovation delivers is very much like that Prince himself does in an arena.”  The message added that “$5,500 would be the bid to bring the production/performers to your wonderful city gathering.”

The price however was too high.  “Unfortunately, that price is out of our budget and we do not have full staging and sound production,” Favro replied on January 19th.

Three months later, the city’s reclusive resident was dead.

The death of Prince

In the frantic minutes and hours immediately following Prince’s death on April 21st, city officials received multiple e-mails asking for confirmation.  “Did Prince die?  Or is this yet another hoax?” one person asked in a message to Hoffman, the city’s park and recreation director.

The city’s finance director confirmed the rumors in a separate e-mail, which he simply titled “Dead.”

“Prince is dead,” he wrote shortly after noon that day.  “Our fire chief tried CPR on him in his elevator but he was already dead.”

A month after Prince’s death, city officials debated a bill for “recouping our costs” that would be sent to the singer’s estate managers.  The Paisley Park invoice “ball park is $14,000ish,” wrote Greg Sticha, the city’s finance director.

“How about we knock it down to $8,000?” replied Johnson, Chanhassen’s fire chief.  “It was Prince for Pete sake.”