Parks update // Dog Park under scrutiny as budget tops $215K

What started as a $32,500 project to build a dog park at Martin Luther King Jr. Park has now grown into a $215,000 expenditure that has the Minneapolis Park Board looking for money to pay for the project. 

The Park Board, after more than two years of debate, has finally received bids on a contract to construct a dog park at Lyndale Farmstead Park, on a 0.64-acre piece of land. The lowest bid recently came in at $191,400, which when combined with design and contingency costs, will well exceed the most recent project budget by about $80,000. 

With the new budget, the dog park will cost more to build than all five of the existing Park Board-funded dog parks in Minneapolis combined, drawing concern from community members and Park Board commissioners. 

At one point, the Park Board was even considering taking $25,000 from a 35W bridge memorial fund to pay for the project at Lyndale Farmstead Park, but after that idea gained publicity, Park Board President John Erwin said funding would come from other sources. 

A Park Board committee was set to vote Nov. 7 on using bridge memorial money and neighborhood park funds to pay for the bulging dog park budget, but Erwin said he would kill that idea and instead use budget reserves. He said that the Park Board would later pay the reserve fund back using dog park permit revenue. 

Cliff Swenson, director of design and project management for the Park Board, said the 35W bridge memorial fund was created within the last couple years. The memorial project was built by the city of Minneapolis, not the Park Board, and Swenson said there has been no reason for the Park Board to use the money. 

“We had some money that we placed into an individual fund just in case there needed to be any additional plantings or anything else we could do, and of course the city has taken care of any safety issues and completed the entire project,” Swenson said. “So we really didn’t need that money anymore, so it just made sense to transfer it to the dog park project.”

In the summer of 2011, vandals defaced the 35W memorial multiple times. Swenson said the city handled the restoration of the memorial on those occasions, and the Park Board memorial fund was not needed. 

Erwin said he wanted to keep the fund intact in case any maintenance needs arose. 

Difficult project

Building a dog park in Southwest Minneapolis has proved to be a difficult project for the Park Board. 

Citizens tried to get one built a dozen years ago, but the Park Board never approved a site. 

Then, back in 2010, another group of citizens pushed for a dog park at Martin Luther King Park. In May of 2010, the group presented an estimate that the project would cost about $45,000, and members of a dog park task force were planning to raise funds to help offset the costs, said Sarah Linnes-Robinson, who was one of those pushing for the dog park at MLK. 

The project, however, ran into protest from the black community about putting a dog park on land dedicated to a civil rights leader. The Park Board voted against using MLK as a site. 

In February 2011, the Park Board appointed an 18-member citizens advisory committee to find a new site. The group chose what is now a piece of a parking lot in Lyndale Farmstead Park, near a storm water pond. 

The Park Board estimated the base price for turning the site into a dog park would be $126,000. 

The Park Board approved that site in December 2011, and sent out a press release saying the project budget would total $132,500 and that it would have the park open to dogs in 2012. Now, in early November, the Park Board still hasn’t approved a bid, construction hasn’t started and the budget has ballooned to $215,000. 

The project had its skeptics back in 2011. Commissioner Bob Fine and citizens advisory committee member Matt Perry both brought up issues with drainage and cost. 

They were right. When plans called for spreading woodchips on the new dog park site, the Minneapolis Public Works Department stepped in and said the chips would run off into the storm water pond and break the water pumps. 

Now the Park Board must use an expensive crushed granite material, which has increased the project budget, according to a staff report. 

In 2011, Perry got a hold of numbers from the Park Board regarding other city dog park projects. The dog park near Lake of the Isles, at 3.6 acres, is fives times the size of the Lyndale Farmstead site. It cost only $62,000 to build. Lake of the Isles was the most expensive of the six existing dog parks in Minneapolis. 

“I remember when they presented us with the original number ($126,000), and I remember thinking to myself, with the drainage issues, I figured the cost would be north of $175,000. I never dreamt it would be north of $200,000,” Perry said. 

Perry said the Park Board should reconsider its decision, since public money is being used. 

“There should be some triggers where you look at the costs for what was budgeted, what was projected, and what they have become, and really ask yourself, is it time to review the decision? Does it make sense to revisit the decision?” Perry said. 

Despite the large budget, Park Board Commissioner Brad Bourn, who represents Southwest, said he still supports the project. Bourn said that over time, the dog park will pay for itself and even generate revenue because of increased permit purchases to use the park. Plus, he said, the project turns a parking lot into a green space. 

“When I look at the benefits it brings, it’s still a pretty positive piece,” Bourn said. 

Reach Nick Halter at [email protected]