Even as it infuses deteriorating neighborhood parks with a fresh dose of funding, the Minneapolis park system is quietly increasing future operating and maintenance costs in long-range plans for its larger regional parks.
The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board last year approved three master plans for regional parks on the central riverfront and at Theodore Wirth and Nokomis-Hiawatha that would add $7 million in operating costs and maintenance needs, as proposed improvements are made in the next 25 years.
That’s a 35 percent increase in the $19.6 million the Park Board currently spends on operating and keeping up its eight Metro Council-designated regional parks, and another 10 parkways or trails that connect them.
And it doesn’t include an expected increase of almost $10 million embedded in improvements proposed by a citizen advisory committee for the Chain of Lakes Regional Park, which the Park Board hasn’t reviewed yet.
“My head is spinning as I’m listening to these numbers,” said Standish neighborhood resident Shawne FitzGerald, a student of park budgets and early member of the watchdog group Park Watch. “Is it sustainable in the long run?”
Park Superintendent Jayne Miller said the higher costs would be absorbed three ways. First, they’ll likely take several decades to kick in, during which time park taxes likely would increase with the city’s tax base.
Second, Miller would seek more state support for operating and maintaining regional parks. State law directs that 40 percent of metro regional park costs be covered by the state, but lawmakers have provided only 9.5 percent on average over the past 20 years. Minneapolis gets about $1.9 million of that annually, with property taxes covering most regional park costs.
The third way to meet regional park costs: moneymaking enterprises. The Park Board is expected to seek development proposals for part of the riverfront Scherer Brothers Lumber site; a long-term lease would help pay for operating an adjacent park.
The Park Board also has approved a controversial plan under which the nonprofit Loppet Foundation will operate ski, snowboard, tubing and mountain bike programs at Wirth, potentially erasing a current winter sports deficit.
A planned visitor pavilion at the planned Water Works Park on the central riverfront would sell food and rent group space in the building and nearby grounds. That’s projected to eventually cover $600,000 in operating and maintenance costs for nearby parkland, according to Tom Evers, executive director of the Minneapolis Parks Foundation.
Despite that, the larger central riverfront park plan will increase costs by another $4 million. “I do not recall much discussion” about the increase, said Ted Tucker, who chaired the citizen group that devised the plan.
The Park Board’s estimate of added operating and maintenance costs for the central riverfront, Wirth and Nokomis-Hiawatha are embedded in master plans reviewed by the Metro Council. The estimates combine routine maintenance such as cutting grass or plowing paths with repair or replacement of facilities as they wear out.
“It’s like we can build anything and everything, and I still think the Park Board is unable to say no to anything,” said Lisa McDonald, a lakes area resident and one of 25 people who helped shape a recent Harriet-Calhoun master plan. “I’m not sure where all of the money is eventually going to come from.”