Development fees could fund the Commons

City eyes potentially millions in untapped park dedication fees for the Commons

Green Minneapolis has begun hosting bring-your-own-beverage movie nights at the Commons. Photo by Christopher Stitcha Photography

The City of Minneapolis is looking to tap a Park Board fund for park improvements to raise money for the Commons, the two-block park near the Minnesota Vikings stadium.

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board’s park dedication fees, dollars collected as assessments from new developments across the city, could generate several million dollars for the park as city officials raise the remaining money to build the final pieces of the Commons.

It’s a unique partnership between two government bodies that have not always seen eye to eye, especially given the fact that just two years ago many park commissioners wanted little to do with the city’s plan for the park.

Park Board President Anita Tabb said elected officials said the agreement was made “in keeping with trying to do the best government can do.”

“Now some time has passed and cooler heads can prevail,” Tabb said. “We looked at the whole thing as adults.”

The board’s park dedication fund is a relatively new and untapped source of money for park improvements. Beginning Jan. 1, 2014, the board has collected the funds specifically to enhance neighborhood and regional parks for new residents and employees moving to the city. For that reason, the collected dollars can only go toward capital and cannot cover operating or rehabilitation costs. The Park Board owns the land the Commons is on and leases it to the city, so, Tabb said, “it really is our park.”

There are other restrictions on the fees, including a rule that they can only be spent on improvements to parks in the same neighborhood. Luckily for the city, the Commons is bisected by Portland Avenue, the neighborhood boundary between Downtown East and Downtown West. However, Michael Schroeder, assistant superintendent of planning services, said the proposed agreement would only pull dollars from developments in a smaller zone within the neighborhoods.

The deal, recently considered by the board’s Planning Committee, would direct fees from the area to the Commons for 10 years or raise $8 million, whatever happens first. Chuck Lutz, deputy director of the city’s Community Planning and Economic Development department, said he estimates the agreement would collect nowhere near $8 million, but something in the ballpark of $1.2 million–$1.5 million.

Park staff has identified roughly $875,000 in park dedication fees accumulated as of April of this year that could be directed toward the Commons.

Fees would come from nearly a dozen projects. The East End Apartments project from Sherman Associates, a development that will bring a Trader Joe’s to the Downtown East neighborhood, brought in $273,000, according to Park Board’s park dedication fee map. The developer’s Encore, another luxury development located closer to the riverfront, brought in $184,500.

Ryan Cos. recently opened the Millwright Building, a four-story office building where it now has its corporate headquarters and regional office, generating $86,000 in park dedication fees.

Photo by Christopher Stitcha Photography
Photo by Christopher Stitcha Photography

City officials are still fundraising to build proposed improvements to the park, primarily a park pavilion and building for concessions. The city put both structures and other features envisioned by park designer Hargreaves Associates on hold last year until additional funding becomes available.

Lutz said the interim has allowed them to observe how park-goers are using the Commons, which gives them an opportunity to refine plans for what the city will eventually build.

It’s unclear how much the buildings will cost, when they will be built or how much officials will have to raise before the city moves forward with them.

Beth Shogren, executive director of Green Minneapolis, the group now tasked with managing the park, said officials have raised approximately $14 million of a $22 million goal in gifts and committed donations. The last public update from a park fundraising committee, a group co-chaired by Mayor Betsy Hodges and Pat Ryan of Ryan Cos., came late last year.

Green Minneapolis, a conservancy created by the Minneapolis Downtown Council, operates through a city contribution and fundraised dollars, Shogren said.

In addition to supporting the fundraising effort, the organization is looking for sponsorship opportunities to provide free programming at the Commons. Daily amenities at the park might include reading carts, ping-pong tables and games, and weekly events include reading time for children and hip-hop dance classes for teens. The park has begun hosting movie nights when, under a new ordinance crafted by Ward 3 Council Member Jacob Frey, guests can bring their own beer and wine.

“Our role is to activate this park and create the downtown destination park that the city and civic leaders envisioned,” Shogren said.

Frey, a Commons booster who has fundraised for the project, said buzz around the park is spreading via word of mouth and people are recognizing its value firsthand. Food trucks, for example, have come to the park to take advantage of nearby office workers and residents.

“There’s an increasing generation of buzz every day,” he said.

Officials say a rising number of residents and employees in the area surrounding the park make a case to use the park dedication fees for the Commons.

The downtown population grew by more than 28 percent between 2006 and 2016, and is now home to nearly 41,000 people, according to the Downtown Council. New office developments like the two 17-story Wells Fargo towers have brought thousands of workers to the blocks surrounding the park. The Commons is the front yard for dozens of residents who call the Edition Apartments and other nearby buildings home.

Whether it’s technically a Park Board park or a City of Minneapolis park makes little difference to them, she said. The line between the two is “blurry,” she added.

“This is a neighborhood park for many of those residents,” Tabb said.

The Park Board and City Council are expected to take up identical versions of the agreement this summer.