Minneapolis city staff members are recommending that the City Council approve a $1.8 million contract with Hargreaves Associates to design the Downtown East park next to the new Vikings stadium.

The San Francisco-based landscape architect was selected from three finalists, whittled down from 13 proposals, that competed on the project. Hargreaves has several local partners on the project, including Damon Farber Associates and VJAA.

City Council must approve the award for the 4.2-acre park, now called Downtown East Commons. First, the item must move through the city's Community Development and Regulatory Services committee on Jan. 14.

Some of Hargreaves' more notable projects include Discovery Green, a 12-acre park in Houston; Cumberland Park, a 6.5-acre park in Nashville; the recently completed Denver Union Station public plaza space totaling 8 acres; and Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, a massive 270-acre park built for the London Olympics in 2012.

The proposed park, on the site of the current Star Tribune building and a parking lot, has faced several funding hurdles and will likely face more.

Both city and downtown leadership have made it clear that they want to see a vibrant, dynamic park — not just a two-block stretch of grass. Some estimates suggest it will cost between $6.3 and $10.5 million to build the park. Hargreaves' budget, according to city documents, envisions spending of around $18.7 million, including its fees.

Ryan Cos., the developer responsible for the entire five-block Downtown East project, kicked off a donation drive by pledging $200,000 in September to Greening Downtown Minneapolis, a nonprofit organization formed by the Minneapolis Downtown Council.

Greening Downtown Minneapolis (GDM) will spearhead the effort with a fundraising campaign.

"There couldn't be a better choice of lead designer," said David Wilson, head of GDM, in a statement. "Their experience with signature projects around the world is impressive, and their attention to stakeholder needs and commitment to genuine engagement through the design process is exactly in keeping with our expectation of how to best create an extraordinary place for our city."

The design contract with Hargreaves will also produce benchmarks to keep development of the park on track for a summer 2016 opening. Stakeholders are proposing a two-phase process, the first being complete by the Vikings 2016 season and the second before Super Bowl 2018, hosted by Minneapolis.

Kristen Leigh Painter • 612-673-4767