Figuring out the future of the Neighborhood Revitalization Program has been a long and complicated process, and it’s not done. Here’s a look back before things move forward.
The continuation/makeover of the Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP) is far from complete.
Yes, big steps have been taken. The NRP Work Group, which spent months thinking up the future of the program, has dismantled, and the City Council in September approved the creation of both a new committee and a new department that eventually will oversee it all.
But funding discussions, plus a lot of nitpicky work, remain. Before things get more complicated, take a moment to get caught up.
AS WE’VE KNOWN IT
Before NRP, neighborhoods were shrinking. Some felt it was coming at the expense of Downtown revival; others saw a lack of city understanding of neighborhood needs.
In 1987, then-Mayor Donald Fraser and the City Council established a Neighborhood Housing and Economic Development Task Force to figure things out. It came back the next year with a 20-year neighborhood revitalization program: NRP.
Formally created through legislative action in 1990, it was split into two phases. Many considered the first phase an all-around success, and by most accounts, neighborhoods thrived. Projects big and small were followed through, including the construction of a tot lot on the east side of Lake Calhoun, jumpstarting East Village Apartments in Elliot Park, renovating the grounds around the Washburn Water Tower and providing more than $200,000 toward the Nicollet Avenue repaving project to add pedestrian lighting.
Neighborhood groups invested in business development, the arts and crime prevention. The second phase stipulated a focus on housing investment.
NRP’s operating structure in the past has worked something like this:
A neighborhood group comes up with an idea for how to spend NRP dollars. NRP staff work with the neighborhood to develop a game plan. That then goes before the NRP Policy Board, a 14-member group representing neighborhoods and governmental bodies such as the city, Hennepin County, and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.
After the policy board approves a neighborhood’s action plan, the City Council gets final approval.
NRP always has been funded through the so-called Common Project, a collection of the city’s oldest and largest tax-increment financing (TIF) districts located in and near Downtown. Property values, appeals that could change those property values and the city’s tax rate all impact how much money the Common Project produces.
Through the first phase of NRP, funding worked well. The city projected another $180 million to be available to neighborhoods for the second phase.
But in 2001, the state Legislature passed a tax bill that drastically altered the state’s property tax system. As a result, Common Project funds were negatively affected. Stable predictions for how much funding would be available went out the door, increasing and decreasing regularly.
In October 2007, about $72.9 million of funding was projected for Phase II, much higher than previous projections. But it fell far short of what neighborhoods originally had been told to expect.
The NRP Work Group
In 2007, Mayor R.T. Rybak announced he wanted the city to develop a strategy for NRP beyond 2009, its originally scheduled final year. Rybak asked that the city figure out how best to stabilize and continue funding of the organization. But he also asked the city to figure out a way to improve the program, seeking a more direct relationship between the city and neighborhoods.
“The current system makes that difficult by having the NRP central administration sitting between these groups and the city,” Rybak said in October 2007.
A NRP Work Group was formed in November. It consisted of four City Council members — President Barb Johnson (4th Ward), Vice President Robert Lilligren (6th Ward), Paul Ostrow (1st Ward) and Betsy Hodges (13th Ward) — mayoral policy aide Cara Letofsky and NRP Director Bob Miller.
Framework for the Future
The work group developed a plan dubbed “Framework for the Future,” which significantly overhauled NRP’s operational structure. It proposed the end of the current NRP body and the creation of a new city department overseen by an assistant city coordinator. Instead of the NRP Policy Board, there would be the Neighborhood and Community Engagement Commission (NCEC).
The commission would feature double the number of neighborhood representatives who sat on the NRP Policy Board, eight instead of four. The City Council would appoint an additional five representatives, the mayor two and the Park Board one.
Those ideas were approved and adopted, along with the creation of a Neighborhood and Community Relations Department, by the City Council at its Sept. 26 meeting. The city is now taking applications to fill the city-appointed seats on the commission.
Support and complaints
Many neighborhood groups — including those in Southwest — put their support behind the creation of the new NRP structure.
“Most of the feedback has been, ‘Alright, we’re going to have a program two years from now,’” Hodges says.
But others have shown strong disdain for the changes. The group Neighbors4NRP, containing members from areas of the city that include Southwest, is concerned the city will no longer make NRP a priority. They say the city’s neglect of neighborhoods forced the creation of the program to begin with.
Hodges says that from a neighborhood group perspective, the experience shouldn’t change much when the commission replaces the NRP Policy Board. Neighborhood groups will still find projects they want to focus on and work with professionals to get them done.
Neighbors4NRP acknowledges that the big alterations of NRP aren’t at the neighborhood level.
“The only major changes … are in the governance and control structures for NRP,” they say. “It is those governing and control structures, however, that have helped NRP achieve its results.”
Miller, the current program’s director, also doesn’t believe the changes will benefit NRP.
“We had an opportunity here,” he says about the NRP Work Group. “But we just made neighborhoods madder.”
In three words: deciding the funding.
Earlier this year, the Legislature passed a bill that reorganized TIF districts in Minneapolis to ensure “neighborhood revitalization purposes” would continue to have a source of funding. A portion of the money from those districts also will go toward paying off the city’s Target Center debt.
Preparing for his 2009 proposed budget, Rybak in August proposed the city make a 10-year investment in NRP. He said he’d like to see $8 million go toward neighborhoods in each of those years, for a total of $80 million. Until that kicks in, he proposed guaranteeing $500,000 each year for the next two years to help establish the new neighborhood department.
The City Council won’t adopt a budget until later this year.
Also coming down the pipeline are the actual formation of the department and the hiring of its director, which will be done by City Coordinator Steven Bosacker, based on recommendations by the NCEC.
What will be different in the future? What will be the same?
The governance structure: DIFFERENT. The 14-member NRP Policy Board will be no more. The 16-member Neighborhood and Community Engagement Commission (NCEC) will replace it. Also, the new Neighborhood and Community Relations Department will wrap NRP under its umbrella, along with other issues, like for example, eliminating homelessness. An assistant city coordinator to be hired by City Coordinator Steven Bosacker will oversee the department.
The neighborhood groups: THE SAME. For now, anyway. The city isn’t mandating any changes in neighborhood groups. Critics say the structure changes will turn off some NRP regulars, thus leading to a number — if not all — of the groups fading away.
The funding: DIFFERENT. The Common Project is gone, although TIF districts will remain the main source of NRP’s money. Critics say that if the city really considers NRP a basic city service, it should provide financing from its General Fund.
Who approves programs: THE SAME — SORT OF. In the current system, projects work through the NRP Policy Board before getting final approval from the City Council. That won’t change much: Projects will make their way through the new commission and the new department’s director before appearing before the City Council for the final say.
The name NRP: THE SAME. While critics argue that the change in the governance structure makes this a completely different system, the city will continue calling it the Neighborhood Revitalization Program.
1987 — Mayor Donald Fraser and the Minneapolis City Council establish a Neighborhood Housing and Economic Development Task Force in part to deal with neighborhood decline.
1988 — The task force recommends the creation of a 20-year neighborhood revitalization plan.
1990 — The NRP Policy Board holds its first meeting.
2007 — Revenue projections show NRP funding all over the place but consistently lower than originally anticipated. Mayor R.T. Rybak calls for a way to develop NRP beyond its final year, 2009. The NRP Work Group is established in response.
December 2007 — The NRP Work Group releases an early draft of its “Framework for the Future.”
March 2008 — A bill introduced in the Legislature extends the funding of “neighborhood revitalization purposes.”
August 2008 — A heavily attended public hearing is held 27 days after the Framework is unveiled. Meanwhile, Rybak presents a plan to invest $80 million over 10 years in NRP after 2009.
What they’re saying
“The new department … will foster a greater community voice and provide direction for improvement in our operations.”
— Council Member Robert Lilligren (6th Ward) on the newly approved Neighborhood and Community Relations Department
“I see it as ending the isolation of NRP.”
— Council Member Betsy Hodges (13th Ward) on the new NRP structure
“Maybe I’m too pessimistic, but I don’t see anything that’s been done that’s led me to a different conclusion.”
— NRP Director Bob Miller, who doesn’t agree with the new NRP structure