The lengthy, expensive and closely watched search for a new Minneapolis parks leader took a big step forward Wednesday night.

In one of its first major decisions, the newly elected Minneapolis Park Board voted unanimously to hire kpCompanies, which is based in St. Louis Park, to handle the national search for the new superintendent.

The board has budgeted $80,000-$100,000 to cover all costs, including air travel for candidates and community engagement sessions.

"I was most impressed with kp's work with communities," At-Large Commissioner LaTrisha Vetaw said at the meeting. "That's really going to matter in our superintendent search."

The board plans to have a new executive in place by October, following Superintendent Jayne Miller's resignation earlier this year.

The park system already has a relationship with the firm. In 2016, it helped hire Tyrize Cox as the park system's new chief of its Recreation Division.

The funding for the search is getting a $50,000 boost from the Minneapolis Foundation, which means the board could spend anywhere from $30,000 to $50,000.

"I think it sends the signal to any applicants across the country that the entire community is ready to embrace our next superintendent," Park Board President Brad Bourn said.

The foundation kicked in its money because the $80,000 to $100,000 was not part of this year's budget due to Miller's unexpected departure.

"We didn't want the Park Board to have to make a choice between funding great programs or funding a search firm," said former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, president and CEO of the foundation.

The new superintendent will inherit a group of mostly newcomers (six of the nine commissioners were elected in November after a fierce election) and a staff of more than 500 full-time employees with an annual budget of about $111 million.

The new leader will also be responsible for continuing the redevelopment of the Upper Harbor Terminal on the Mississippi River and determining the future of the Hiawatha Golf Club.

Community involvement will be amplified compared to previous searches, according to a news release announcing the search firm.

Citywide conversations will be held with residents and park users to learn what qualities they want in their next leader.

Three search firms were interviewed but Bourn said kpCompanies' proposal was "best geared" to help the board engage with the community during the process.

Twitter: @KarenAnelZamora