There's a model in Loring Greenway
Even before the first tree is planted, the Downtown East park dubbed "The Yard" seems to be mired in legal battles over who should own and operate it and hand-wringing over the cost of maintenance.
We have a perfect example of a downtown park that works, so there's no need to reinvent the wheel. Since it was built more than 30 years ago, Loring Greenway (stretching from Nicollet Mall to Loring Park) has been owned and maintained by the city of Minneapolis, not the Park Board. More than a popular bicycle and pedestrian thoroughfare, Loring Greenway provides traditional park features, serving as a place for children to play, event space and a "back yard" for condo/apartment dwellers. The park features two fountains, walking/biking paths, gardens, planters, seating areas and a playground.
When the greenway fell into disrepair, the city had funds only to restore the hardscape. Thus, residents who live along and near the park formed the Loring Greenway Association, a nonprofit organization, to maintain the greenway. Generous contributions come from residents, condo associations and businesses that line the park or are located near it. Volunteers plant and maintain the gardens and trees, organize events, and work with the city to keep the hardscape looking its best. The association not only helps solve the financial problems of park maintenance, but also brings neighbors and businesses together in a unique way that happens only in an urban setting.
The Yard, like Loring Greenway, could function both as a local park and a public event space, but its success will hinge on the involvement of the residents and businesses located on or near it. Just planting grass and trees won't suffice. Isn't it better to plan and fund park features before the first shovel turns dirt?
Start early by forming a nonprofit organization to elicit funds from nearby residents and affluent Wells Fargo and the Vikings (whose properties will line the park and benefit from it). If the much larger Loring Greenway can succeed and flourish with a city-citizen partnership, The Yard can also.
STEVE MILLIKAN, Minneapolis