The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board agreed Wednesday to pay as much as $8 million for designed but never-built amenities at Downtown East Commons park in front of U.S. Bank Stadium.
The plan agreed to by the Park Board on a 5-3 vote requires City Council approval, which is expected on Aug. 4.
The city and the Park Board agreed in 2014 to allow park dedication fees to be used for the Commons, according to Park Board and city staff.
Park dedication fees that will go to the Commons will come from an 18-block area downtown. The Park Board has collected $874,000 from developments in that area since 2014.
Under terms approved Wednesday, the Commons will get 10 years’ worth of park fees or $8 million, whichever comes first.
Initial plans for the Commons included two buildings, terraces, a water feature and a plaza. The city decided to hold off on those elements in early 2016, citing the pace of fundraising at that time.
New money from the Park Board will be used to finish paying for future improvements that may include a cafe, support building and other features included in the initial design, city spokeswoman Sarah McKenzie said.
“This wasn’t a deal we loved going into it,” said Park Board President Anita Tabb. “But I also don’t think that it makes sense at all to punish the recipients, the residents and the constituents in that area. This is a park that serves them.”
Commissioners Brad Bourn, Steffanie Musich and Meg Forney voted against the resolution.
“I’m really struggling with us dedicating park dedication fees to this space,” Musich said.
Bourn said the Vikings should step up and contribute to this project.
“I don’t feel this works for us right now,” he said. “Here is $8 million that could go toward the riverfront or some other projects that we have.”
The Commons, owned by the Park Board but overseen by the City Council and operated by a nonprofit, has been struggling to raise the money needed to build out the full vision for the space.
Donations main funding
The Park Board’s new financial contribution will supplement donations from local corporations and organizations, which have been the main funding source for the Commons.
“This wasn’t a Park Board idea, this was a request that came from the city of Minneapolis,” Assistant Park Superintendent Michael Schroeder said.
“Park Board officials were asked to attend a meeting where this was posed to us.”
Green Minneapolis, a nonprofit conservancy that manages Commons park operations, is also responsible for fundraising. It has been a challenging task. Last year, after plans for the park already had been scaled back due to a funding shortage, developer Ryan Cos. provided a bridge loan of about $1 million so the park would be ready for the July opening of U.S. Bank Stadium.
The Commons’ 2017 operating budget is nearly $1.4 million, made up of $500,000 from the city’s Public Works budget and money raised by Green Minneapolis.
Green Minneapolis Executive Director Beth Shogren said the organization’s role isn’t changing and that fundraising is ongoing.
“We are absolutely in support of any effort that would dedicate more resources to the Commons to make it more successful,” she said.
The Park Board began collecting park dedication fees from developers in 2014 to pay for enhancements to the park system.
The money is intended to be used to expand amenities and acquire land, not to pay for maintenance or programming.
Using the park dedication fees for the Commons means other projects in the area — like the Water Works park planned along the Mississippi Riverfront — won’t get that money, Schroeder said.
Tom Evers, executive director of the Minneapolis Parks Foundation, which is raising money for Water Works, said the group wasn’t counting on park fees.
“The parks dedication fees is not a primary source for completing Water Works,” Evers said.