Business interests have officially formed a non-profit company, Greening Downtown Minneapolis, to oversee unique downtown parks in Minneapolis under a new public-private conservancy model.

Following models in other cities, the entity is expected to eventually control maintenance, operations and programming of the future downtown east park – bordered by a new Wells Fargo campus and Vikings stadium. Their purview could eventually extend to other spaces including Peavey Plaza off of Nicollet Mall.

“The vision is for this entity to be an important new part of the civic infrastructure in downtown,” said Steve Cramer, CEO of the Downtown Council. “Really addressing I think what most of us would acknowledge is one of the weaker parts of an otherwise really strong downtown, and that is green space, public realm.”

The organization is currently a bare-bones operation, consisting of a three-person board led by David Wilson, a managing director at Accenture. Wells Fargo committed $50,000 to help get it off the ground. A consultant is being retained to formulate a precise business model, and Cramer said the final board will include representatives from both the public and private sector.

The new downtown park has proved vexing for city leaders, unique in both its location and the amount of time it is contractually obligated to sports interests. Its construction is expected to cost between $6.3M and $10.5 million, based on city estimates, about $4.6 million of which has been identified from private sources.

The city is in the process of selecting a designer to draw up a vision for the space, which council member Jacob Frey anticipates will help fuel fundraising. The City Council will eventually have to take a vote on hiring the conservancy to oversee the space.

But a thorny funding problem remains.

“The one outstanding question that we’re wresting with is how do you pay for the maintenance costs, the ongoing maintenance costs,” Frey said.

The conservancy model would not absolve the city of any deficits generated by the park, meaning City Hall must devise a plan for its ongoing costs. The Park Board, which opted not to take on the project, estimated the park would cost between $2 million and $3 million a year to operate and maintain. Frey said it would be between $500,000 and $1 million.

Some of the revenue may be generated by the park itself – through events and concessions, for example. “Another model could be assessments,” Frey said. “But then where is the boundary? Who is assessed? By how much?”

Would general fund money be tapped? “I don’t know at this point,” Frey said. “Obviously the goal is to raise money from external sources.”

As for whether the city would own the space, Frey said that is still being determined. “Regardless of who owns it, if there was ...ownership [by] some entity other than the city, then we would be looking at a 50- to 75-year lease.”

Funding to build the park will be aided by $3.6 million from Ryan Companies – part of their deal with the city to build next to the site – and another $1 million from the Vikings. Frey said the Vikings gift was given on the condition that the park not be named for another corporation.

“We can still collect funds in exchange for recognition on structures within the space,” Frey said. “So benches, movie screens, ice skating rinks.”

Conservancies have been used to oversee other unique urban parks across the country, including Grant Park in Chicago and Bryant Park in New York City. Other park conservancies exist in the Twin Cities, but Cramer said they are less focused on programming and activating the space.