Several Commons’ Features Put on Hold for Park’s Debut

The following article by Sarah McKenzie, updated on January 25, 2016, was published in the Southwest Journal.

Several Commons’ Features Put on Hold for Park’s Debut

Image courtesy of Hargreaves Associates
An illustration of the Commons park, which will open this summer.
Not all planned features, however, will be ready when the park opens.

A number of design elements planned for the Commons park next to the Vikings stadium will
not be part of the project’s first phase when it opens this summer given the pace of fundraising
for the project.

To date, fundraisers have raised $10.5 million for the 4.2-acre Downtown East park — nearly 50 percent of their goal. The total includes an additional $2 million from the Vikings, bringing the team’s total contribution to $3 million.

Two buildings, terraces along the park’s Great Lawn and the wet plaza feature envisioned for the park by designer Hargreaves Associates will be put on hold until additional funding becomes available, according to a report to the City Council’s Community Planning & Regulatory Services Committee.

The city has issued $18.8 million in bonds for the Commons. Ryan Cos., the developer behind Wells Fargo’s new Downtown East office towers, has pledged to pay debt service on the bonds for 10 years and then parking revenue from nearby ramps will be used to cover the remainder of the debt service.

The estimated cost to complete the first phase of the Commons this summer is $10.8 million, said Miles Mercer, manager of business development for the city, during a presentation before the Council committee Tuesday.

That level of funding will cover the installation of the park’s hardscape, great and small lawns, program rooms and other plantings, according to Mercer’s report.

Fundraisers still need to raise about $6 million to cover the costs of the first phase of the Commons, he said.

Green Minneapolis, the group overseeing fundraising for the Commons, estimates that operating costs for the first year of the park will be $1.5 million.

Park planners have been looking at ways to generate revenue for the park, including the possibility of opening a food concession or charging fees to rent park buildings. A consultant for the city has estimated the spaces could generate $26,500 to $100,000 a year for the park, according to Mercer’s report.

The City Council approved agreements for the Commons park in September, but also directed city staff to provide an updated use agreement with the Vikings and Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority to determine a schedule for the park. The Council also called for a funding plan for the park’s ongoing maintenance.

City Council Member Lisa Bender (Ward 10) was critical of the city’s agreement with the MSFA at the Jan. 15 City Council meeting.

“Every time we talk about the Commons there is an elephant in the room, which is our agreement with the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Authority — which gives away an enormous amount of time and use of what is supposed to be a public space for private use with no compensation to the city,” she said. “I predict they day will come, and probably soon, when we will be asked to commit more public tax dollars to this space for operations and maintenance. I cannot imagine anyone here supporting one more penny of public dollars going into this without a renegotiation of the MSFA contract.”

City Council Member Jacob Frey (Ward 3) sounded more optimistic about the park’s future. He said an arrangement to have tailgating take place on the Medical Examiner’s block instead of in the Commons should open up more days for full public use of the park.

“I do agree that there is a strong desire to amend the present contract to ensure more public time, and I do think we have the levers to pull to facilitate that renegotiation,” he said.