The city of Minneapolis has the design for its $18 million Downtown East Commons park in hand. Now it needs to find the money to build it, an effort that — because of contractual restrictions — won’t have the luxury of tapping into a lucrative naming-rights deal.
Landscape architect Hargreaves Associates, based in San Francisco, presented the first images of the direction the park will take at a public meeting Wednesday night at the Minneapolis Central Library. Featuring a large grassy oval that can accommodate thousands of people, a cafe, a playful water feature and tree-lined walks, the park is a central component of the redevelopment of the area around the new Vikings stadium.
Armed with colorful images, a fundraising committee organized by the Minneapolis Downtown Council will now try to raise $22 million to cover construction plus related costs like design and engineering as well as operating expenses for the park’s first year. The park’s design may be refined, but likely won’t change dramatically.
“The more the plans for the Commons become clear, the more people begin to embrace those plans,” said Steve Cramer, president of the Downtown Council, a coalition of business leaders. “Then people start seeing it more as a publicly owned community asset and a little less as the front door to the Vikings stadium. It never was that, but that’s been the perception.”
Hargreaves relied on more than 2,700 survey results and two public meetings to shape its design. Among the more noticeable features is the large, grassy oval with terraced edges — being called the Great Lawn — that sits nearest the Vikings stadium and can accommodate 4,000 to 6,000 people. Across Portland Avenue is a smaller lawn, a wooded area and a water plaza. Large pedestrian promenades rim the north and south sides with tree-lined canopies.
Minnesotans seem satisfied with their current stock of lakes and rivers. Hargreaves senior principal Mary Margaret Jones said the public feedback largely opposed a more natural lake or pond, preferring a more artistic water feature. And so Hargreaves is proposing a cloudlike experience. On the western half of the park, small stone blocks will be laid out in an asymmetrical shape and covered with a thin layer of water. There will also be mist- and fog-producing spouts inviting human interaction, all of which can be turned off in winter and possibly replaced by a skating rink.
The north side would feature a cafe and patio as well as active program areas for things like art installations, bocce, curling, children’s play equipment and adult fitness classes.
These elements will be leveraged by Washington, D.C.-based New Partners, the third-party consulting firm hired by the Downtown Council to lead the fundraising efforts. That contract was paid using seed money from Minneapolis-based Ryan Cos., the developer of the adjacent office and residential properties.
Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges, co-chair of the fundraising committee, says she is confident the money will be raised. “There is a whole range of stakeholders we are talking to,” she said.
But a stipulation written into the park user agreement between the city and the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA) last year is adding a wrinkle to corporate fundraising. The park operator, Greening Downtown Minneapolis (a nonprofit organization created by Downtown Council), is forbidden from soliciting commercial naming rights for all or any piece of the park.
“It’s a factor,” Cramer said, “I would have to say though that in our many conversations with potential donors, no one has closed the door because of it.”
The committee is thinking creatively about how to offer donor recognition. The leading thought at this point is a single location within the park listing all major donors.
“The Downtown Council’s perspective is that this use agreement is in place and, while over time, perhaps the parties to that agreement will be comfortable modifying some of those conditions, that remains to be seen. So we just have to work with them,” Cramer said.
The user agreement ruffled feathers when it was signed in February 2014. While the nonprofit conservancy will operate it and the Park Board will own it and lease it to the city, the agreement’s provisions allow the Vikings and MSFA rights to use the park 80 days a year — and in some cases, up to 100 days. Which is why the city is pressuring the Vikings to donate a sizable chunk of money for the park.
“The city has delivered the blank slate. Undoubtedly, we need some of the interests surrounding the park to step up in a big way financially,” said Jacob Frey, a Minneapolis City Council member representing that area of downtown.
This Vikings have promised a $1 million contribution if the park is not named after a corporate sponsor, which could conflict with the naming rights of the stadium.
“We are in the market right now for our own stadium sponsors,” said Lester Bagley, executive vice president of public affairs and stadium development for the Vikings. “We wanted to ensure there were no conflicting partnerships.”