Some of Minneapolis' showpiece charity events will pay lots more to play in the city's cash-strapped park system if a proposed budget goes through.
Shocked by the fee increases proposed for their fundraisers, some charities are considering moving out of Minneapolis. The proposed fees -- and budget cuts such as closing six more skating rinks -- get a hearing tonight before the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, with a vote scheduled for next week.
"We are scrambling," said Cheryl Maloney, executive director of the Twin Cities Pride Festival.
The two-day event, which has drawn an estimated 120,000 people to Loring Parks, has been told to expect its permit fees to jump from $10,487 this year to $58,000 if the fee proposal passes.
Big increases are also expected for such nonprofits as the March of Dimes, Multiple Sclerosis Society and Minnesota AIDS Project, plus athletic contests.
"Nobody has reached out. We found out about this because some good citizen went to the last Park Board meeting," Maloney said.
The proposed fee hikes are needed because the Park Board isn't getting a big enough increase from property taxes and state aid, said manager of administration Don Siggelkow.
The combined 4.4 percent rise isn't enough to offset a double-digit health premium increase, and a salary increase for park police, he said.
So the Park Board is trying to close the gap by cutting costs and by generating more from the remaining 8 percent of its budget, which is where fees come in. A public hearing is scheduled at tonight's meeting, which begins at 5 p.m. at 2117 W. River Rd.
Park managers also have proposed cutting six of the system's 28 outdoor skating locations, for example. There were rinks at 50 parks as recently as 1995 before budgetary attrition whittled them.
The outcry so far has been loudest from the Powderhorn Park area. That's where the rink on the park's lake nestled in a bowl surrounding by giant elms and park lore includes outdoor speedskating events that drew tens of thousands of spectators in the 1930s.
"The glow from the park alone helps to warm up south Minneapolis and create a welcoming atmosphere in a cold and impersonal world. Please do not let the lights go out on your watch," Paula Gilbertson, whose house overlooks the park, told park commissioners. Rinks also are proposed to close at Brackett, Waite, Shingle Creek, Harrison and Loring parks.
Siggelkow said commissioners used a priority-setting discussion to guide developing the budget that found them willing to increase fees on those that could pay. He said that capturing fees during the Republican National Convention also was a factor.
Compared with New York and Chicago, "We were really undervaluing our park system for events," he said.
But nonprofits say the proposal hits them when some have already adopted budgets for 2008 events. For example, the 2008 Get in Gear race, which has used parkways for decades, calculates the higher fees would add $20,000 to costs when it is already taking registrations at $25 per runner.
"One of the solutions could be to pull the event from Minneapolis entirely," said Paula Odenthal, the event's director.
One new fee that nicks the 35-year-old Pride event charges for exclusive use of parks, increasing by the importance of the park, the share of a park used and whether the event is private.
That fee alone would cost Pride $20,000, and could be as high as $40,000 for exclusive private use of an entire showcase park such as Loring or Powderhorn. Pride also is hit by a proposed doubling of the fee for those who exhibit at an event and a $1,000 per car fee when automakers promote cars.
Nonprofits worry that such fees eat into the activities their fundraisers finance, said Dave Folkens, a Minnesota AIDS Project spokesman.
Maloney has met with park staff and is hoping the board will scale back or at least phase in the fee hikes. "I would hate to have to move out of Loring Park because it has such a rich history but you have to look at all the options," she said.
"It may be that the only events in the future are Park Board events," said John Munger, director of the City of Lakes Loppet, which faces a doubling in fees.
Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438