Minneapolis’ support for the ornate downtown park designed by prominent national consultants will ultimately be contingent on securing the funding to maintain it, the City Council decided Friday.
The last-minute condition convinced a wide majority of the council to support the concept for a new park that will sit in the shadow of the Minnesota Vikings stadium and Wells Fargo’s new downtown campus. There are still plenty of challenges ahead, most prominently the need to raise $22 million for the park’s construction.
But the council voted to kick in $2 million toward that total on Friday for the initial design, reversing earlier expectations that the city would be reimbursed for those design costs. Council members made the decision to satisfy donors who wanted the city to commit funding to the design plan, the mayor’s office said this week.
The 11-2 vote gives city backing to Hargreaves Associates’ vision for the urban park, which includes trees, a pavilion, grand lawns and a water plaza. But if there’s not enough money to maintain it, the city will approve a new, scaled-down concept.
“My concern all along is that we not end up with something that we can’t maintain,” said Council Member Lisa Bender, who sponsored the amendment for the backup, smaller plan. “And that we not stick Minneapolis taxpayers with a huge maintenance bill.”
Staff said earlier this week that the park could cost $1.25 million a year to operate and maintain. Some of that will initially be covered from the fundraising campaign, but long-term funding options that have been discussed include assessments on nearby properties and a new fee on parking facilities.
Some took the opportunity to highlight the city’s support for the park project, which has helped spur private development without committing new property tax subsides. The land clearance and basic park construction were made possible by $18.8 million in debt issued by the city, tied to expected revenue from a nearby parking ramp.
“Not one penny in property taxpayer money is going into this park,” Council Member Lisa Goodman said.
She also highlighted the lack of tax-increment financing to fund nearby developments, a subsidy that deprives local governments of additional property tax money. “Every bit of that property tax base is going right back into our tax base and the tax base of the county and the schools,” Goodman said.
The council also asked staff to determine the number of days that the Minnesota Vikings and Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority can reserve portions of the park. That’s based on an agreement that gave those entities several days to construct and take down massive tents, potentially blocking portions of the park for huge swaths of the warmer months.
It’s possible that the tenting issue is alleviated by the construction of more permanent tent structures on Hennepin County’s morgue parking lot, though no agreement has been reached.
Council Member Cam Gordon said he’d prefer not to wait on re-examining the agreement between the city, the Vikings and the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority. “I would prefer that we open that and looked at it before we made any further commitments,” Gordon said.
Gordon voted against the overall deal, joined by Council Member Blong Yang. Council Member Andrew Johnson voted “yes” to all but the $2 million design contribution.
The city’s investment in the project remained largely unchanged despite the $2 million contribution, since the state kicked in $1.5 million to offset land costs after the city issued debt for the project. The difference was made up by existing department budgets.
Yang said it was “offensive” that the council was now covering design costs it approved in January under the expectation that they would be reimbursed.
“If we have that kind of money to just give away, I can think of 100 different causes that are more worthy,” Yang said. “If we don’t have skin in the game already without this $2 million donation, I don’t know what skin probably is. Because we’ve done a lot.”