Council Seeks Funding Plan for Commons Park

The following article by Sarah McKenzie was published in the September 24, 2015 issue of the Southwest Journal.

Council Seeks Funding Plan for Commons Park

The City Council voted to approve agreements for the Downtown East Commons park on Friday, but asked for an updated use agreement with the Vikings and Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority and called for a funding plan for ongoing maintenance for the park.

The Council’s action Friday approves San Francisco-based Hargreaves Associates’ design concept for the park, authorizes the nonprofit conservancy Green Minneapolis to undertake a fundraising campaign for the project and allows Ryan Cos. to move ahead with the initial phase of construction. It also affirms that the city won’t be reimbursed $2 million for design and project costs through the park’s fundraising campaign as originally proposed in January — a provision that has generated scrutiny and debate among Council members.

Council Members Frey and Lisa Bender (Ward 10) offered amendments Friday that make the approval of the Commons’ design concept contingent on a final maintenance plan.

“These questions have to be answered now,” Bender said. “I can’t support maintenance becoming an afterthought.”

Future operating and maintenance costs for the Commons are estimated at $1.25 million a year.

City staff have been directed to bring forward a list of potential funding mechanisms for the park, provide an updated analysis of the use agreement with the Vikings and MSFA for the Commons and explore reopening negotiations with them to determine how many days they have the right to book events. Under the current agreement, the Vikings can host events at the park up to 60 days and the MSFA has the right to use the eastern block of the park for 40 days.

A report on those issues is due to the Council’s Community Development & Regulatory Services Committee by Dec. 11.

City Council members Cam Gordon (Ward 2) and Blong Yang (Ward 5) voted against moving ahead with the Commons agreements and Andrew Johnson (Ward 12) voted against the item acknowledging the city won’t be reimbursed for the $2 million in design costs, arguing the city has already shown an extensive commitment to the project and the Vikings stadium. The public contribution to the $1 billion stadium includes $150 million from the City of Minneapolis and $348 million from the State of Minnesota.

Yang said he can think of “100 other causes” that are more worthy of the $2 million than the Commons, such as focusing on revitalizing the North Side and addressing homelessness. “The more attention we give to this [project], the less attention we give to other needy issues in the city,” he said.

Donors and potential benefactors of the park have told city officials that they want to see more “skin in the game” from the city for the new Commons park, said City Council Member Jacob Frey (Ward 3). The mayor’s office and other leaders working on the park then proposed dedicating $2 million largely funded from bond proceeds and other department sources for the Commons. The city has also secured $1.5 million in grants for the project.

The city has issued $18.8 million in bonds for the Commons, but no property tax dollars have been earmarked for the project. Ryan Cos. has pledged to pay the debt service on the bonds for 10 years and parking revenue has been earmarked to cover the remainder of the debt payments.

So far, the Commons fundraising committee chaired by Mayor Betsy Hodges and Ryan Cos. CEO Pat Ryan have raised $7 million for the 4.2-acre park — about a third of the $22 million goal.