Park Board sponsorship plan might cut into nonprofit fundraising

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board could be going head-to-head with area non-profit groups as it looks for ways to find more money for programs without raising taxes.

A number of nonprofit groups use Park Board property for events and fundraisers, such as the MS Walk, the Twin Cities Marathon, the Get in Gear Walk/Run, AIDS Walk, Twin Cities Pride, the 4th of July Celebration, Uptown Art Fair, and events held by the March of Dimes and the Animal Humane Society.

The Park Board is issuing a Request for Proposals to companies like Coke and Pepsi, offering them exclusive rights to sell cold beverages on park property for up to 10 years in exchange for financial and program support.

That deal could affect groups hosting events on parkland if they have their own beverage deals or hope to develop them.

The Park Board currently has a beverage contract with Coke that doesn't affect special events held by other groups on park property. The Park Board renews the beverage contract annually.

Don Siggelkow, assistant superintendent of development, said offering beverage dealers a longer-term contract with more marketing opportunities may make the board more money, especially with looming budget cuts.

"Since the City Council slashed the park board levy, this kind of thing has become more and more important, and the board is starting to see that," he said.

"From a public policy standpoint, the question is, 'Are the dollars better coming to the Park Board coffer or are the dollars better going to somebody else?'" Siggelkow asked. "I wouldn't want to argue that any group is more important than the other. But we are the landlords, and we have to figure out how to generate the money to sustain the system."

Siggelkow said proposals are due by mid-September. The staff plans to make a recommendation to the board by late October.

The RFP said the Park Board would consider granting advertising and marketing opportunities on mobile vending carts, the Park Board's annual publication, Park Board programs and events, on Bossen, Parade and Neiman Sports Complex athletic field fences, hockey rink boards and golf course tees, holes and driving range dividers.

The Park Board touts the marketing opportunities, noting 500,000-plus people attended the large events on parkland in 2000. "While these events are neither owned nor operated by the (Park Board), the (Park Board) has retained the rights to control the distribution of all beverages sold at these and other events," the RFP said. It specifically lists events like the Uptown Art Fair, MS Walk and others as examples.

Cindy Fitzpatrick, executive director of the Uptown Association, which produced the Art Fair, said the event already pays more than $9,000 to the Park Board, plus 10 percent of its food and beverage sales on park property.

The Art Fair has its own deal with Coke, Fitzpatrick said. If the Park Board infringed on that, the fair would pull its 150 booths and stalls from the Park-Board-owned Mall, she said.

Fitzpatrick said the Park Board should have talked with her and other event organizers before sending out the RFP, and let them know their events' names would be used.

Amy Weiss, director of communications for the Minnesota AIDS Project, said an expanded beverage contact would not cause immediate problems for the AIDS Walk. "It could be in the future. It does place restrictions on our fundraising potential," she said.

The beverage deal would not affect the MS Walk, said Timothy Holtz, programs development coordinator for the Minnesota Chapter of the Multiple Sclerosis Society. The organization doesn't sell anything at the MS Walk and doesn't plan to in the future.

Siggelkow said once the Park Board got responses from beverage companies, it would weigh its potential gain against the potential loss to the other groups.

If the Park Board would only get $5,000 per major event by offering exclusive beverage rights, it might not be worth it, he said. If the offer came in at $50,000 per major event, the answer might be different.

The RFP asks those submitting a proposal to discuss how they would partner with the Park Board to support such things as the First Tee Junior Golf Program, recreation program scholarships, equipment funding and citywide swim lesson scholarships.