A Terrible Minneapolis Park Deal Just Got $2 million Worse

The following article by Cory Zurowski was published in the August 28, 2015 issue of City Pages.

A Terrible Minneapolis Park Deal Just Got $2 million Worse

Is that the sound of sleigh bells coming from The Commons?

Is that the sound of sleigh bells coming from The Commons?

We had a deal.

Past tense.

The city of Minneapolis was paying $20 million to developer Ryan Companies for The Commons, the 4.2-acre park abutting the new Vikings stadium.

Twenty million bucks, the deal done no later than July 1, 2016.

As for the $2 million being fronted by Minneapolis taxpayers to architect Hargreaves Associates to design the park, “the city would be reimbursed” months later with money raised through the park’s fundraising campaign.

Scratch that.

City project coordinator Miles Mercer stood at the podium on Tuesday afternoon. He spoke glowingly to the Community Development and Regulatory Services Committee, which includes Councilman Jacob Frey, the park’s biggest cheerleader — despite the fact that it’ll be off-limits to the public for an unknown number of days because the Vikings and other sports VIPs have first dibs.

The goal of The Commons, Mercer told the panel, is to create “a public open space… an inclusive, memorable destination for all.”

The rosy presentation included multiple renderings. “The Great Lawn” where the masses would gather. A kiosk in winter where children would drink “hot cocoa” while taking a break from ice skating.

Then Mercer cut to the chase: Minneapolis taxpayers would not be repaid the $2 million being spent “for design and project management costs.”

When committee chair Lisa Goodman conceded the floor to questions, no one asked WTF?

Instead, Frey chimed in about the “very significant project” that so far had produced “great results” for a park that can be “a kitchen table for the entire city.”

Although the city had allocated the $2 million “with the expectation it would be replenished,” said Frey, that now wasn’t going to happen.

And just like that the people of City of Lakes got $2 million poorer.

“We have your basic dirt and grass with pigeons flying around park already in place,” Frey tells City Pages. “To realize the full vision, it was necessary for the city to step up to leverage those [private contributions already made by Ryan and Wells Fargo] with several more [private donations] on the way.… I introduced the motion in the name of transparency and to leverage those additional monies. I feel it was the right thing to do.”

Give Frey credit. He’s at least willing to talk about the park deal. The same can’t be said for the rest of City Hall. It’s this silence that speaks to what they all know, yet won’t publicly state: The Commons deal is a dog.

It was originally sold as a public park, costing taxpayers $18 million. Today, the project is almost unrecognizable.

The deal concedes days of “exclusive use” to the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority and the Vikings. The Purple has donated $1 million toward park construction.

How many days will the people be barred from “the public park” is anyone’s guess. It could range from a few dozen dates to as many as 100.

That murk is further sullied by the park’s rising public costs.

What was $18 million is now $22 million. Only a quarter of the $20 million construction capital has been raised by Green Minneapolis, the nonprofit conservancy charged with finding donors to actually pay for the green space.

That’s $15 million still unaccounted for, not to mention what could be in the neighborhood of $3 million annually in maintenance.

What’s worse is the door is wide open to stick Minneapolis taxpayers with the tab.

According to documents from Tuesday’s Community Development and Regulatory Services Committee meeting, Green Minneapolis isn’t guaranteeing it can or will raise the remaining funds. The paperwork also reads, “Staff will return to the City Council if any future appropriation requests are needed related to the project.”

In other words, if private donations don’t pay for the park, Minneapolis taxpayers likely will.