Downtown Council Moves to Create New Parks Conservancy

The following article by Ben Johnson was published in the Downtown Journal on June 18, 2014.

A Park Watch comment about the article is that talk of a conservancy or any other 501(c)(3) entity for “The Yard” seems premature. As long as the Vikings and the Sports Authority control “The Yard” a significant number of days AND have priority scheduling, it is not a public park.

Downtown Council Moves to Create New Parks Conservancy

Last week the Minneapolis Downtown Council and Downtown Improvement District (DID) made the first move toward creating the city’s first parks conservancy.

On June 10 the Downtown Council/DID’s (the two organizations merged last year) Executive Committee voted to allocate $50,000 toward creating a new branch of its organization that could operate, program and fundraise for public spaces downtown. Initially efforts will focus on Peavey Plaza and The Yard, the 3.4-acre park planned as part of the five-block Downtown East development.

“Whether that means we’ll go out and try to hire a crackerjack staff person or find a consultant who has done this sort of work before, I don’t know,” said Downtown Council President and CEO Steve Cramer. “The idea is to have the organizational structure and capacity for maintenance, programming and fundraising that can advance the goal of better downtown public space.”

The new venture will be incorporated as a 501(c)(3), making it eligible to receive tax-deductible donations. It will likely be paired with an oversight committee made up of some combination of business executives, community leaders and public officials.

Ward 3 City Council Member Jacob Frey, whose ward covers most of downtown, including Peavey Plaza and The Yard, has been a vocal supporter of a downtown conservancy.

“One of the most urgent matters in the ward is The Yard. We all have these grandiose visions of what The Yard can be, but one of the most important pieces is that we need to get under control is the fundraising, operations and maintenance, and for that I am strongly in favor of the conservancy model,” he said at a recent neighborhood meeting.

Park Board President Liz Wielinski said she is open to the idea of a conservancy, but needed to see more details before endorsing one.

“I think if we work together and do this in an obvious format where everybody gets to see what’s going on, no hidden budgets, no hidden profits, then it could work,” she said.

Cramer cautioned that although conversations have been taking place for months, nothing about the conservancy is finalized.

“The first step we’re taking here is to spend a little bit of money, take a little bit of risk to build out the capacity to do this, and if the Park Board or the city want to engage and be a part of it, then it will be sustainable in the future,” he said.

“Nothing is signed, sealed and delivered, but I think there’s enough general support to move past the talking stage to the doing stage, and some of these details will be resolved as we go along.”