City finalizes short-term operations plan for Commons park

An illustration of the Downtown East Commons Park.

The City Council approved an agreement Friday with the Downtown Improvement District (DID) to operate the Downtown East Commons park on an interim basis until a long-term plan for the park is finalized.

The city will pay the DID $600,000 to temporarily oversee park operations through the end of 2016 until a longer term contract can be finalized with Green Minneapolis, the nonprofit parks conservancy spearheading fundraising for the park that will eventually oversee its operations.

The $600,000 paid to the DID would come from private fundraising dollars, said City Council Member Jacob Frey (Ward 3) during an update on the project at the Council’s Ways & Means Committee on May 9.

The park is set to open this summer but a grand opening date hasn’t been determined because final construction is weather dependent, said Miles Mercer, manager of business development for the city.

Under the agreement, the DID will oversee cleaning, maintenance, coordination of activities and the development of safety protocols, among other things, for the 4.2-acre park next to the new Vikings stadium.

The Council will also approved directing $250,000 from the city’s Capital Improvement Fund and accepting charitable gifts from Green Minneapolis for the park.

City Council Member Lisa Bender (Ward 10) asked several questions about the Commons’ budget and raised concerns about the lack of certainty of a long-term funding plan for the park during the Ways & Means meeting.

Future operating and maintenance costs for the Commons are estimated at about $1.25 million a year.

“Right now we know what the plan is for 2016 and there’s a lot to figure out for 2017 in terms of what is the right size budget given what we think are going to be the likely revenue sources,” Mercer said.

Green Minneapolis has raised nearly $14 million for the Commons — more than half of the $22 million goal for the park.

Park planners have also been looking at ways to generate revenue at the park, including renting out park buildings or opening a restaurant.

The city has issued $18.8 million in bonds for the Commons. Ryan Cos., the developer working on the new Wells Fargo Downtown East office towers, has agreed to pay the debt service on the bonds for 10 years and then parking revenue from nearby ramps will cover the remainder.

Frey said the amount of annual tax revenue that the area has generated as a result of the park far exceeds the city’s investment in the park.

“It’s tens and tens of millions of dollars that we’re getting on an annual basis from this area,” he said.

As for the use agreement with the Vikings for the park, Mercer said the park will always be available to the public. While there will be days when the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA) and Vikings have “use rights,” the public will still be able to access the park, he said.

The MSFA also has a lease to use the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s parking lot for game day festivities to limit its presence in the park.

Frey said the agreement with the Vikings means that the team can’t “rope off” or charge a fee to access the park during game days.

“Literally anybody can participate,” he said.