Money Pit

Ten years, $200 million, and one heck of a political headache: Minneapolisís grand plan for neighborhood revitalization enters the home stretch.

Three weeks later, at the February 28 meeting of the policy board, the five options had been replaced by two new alternatives, neither of which calls for anything close to a 60 percent allocation. One called for setting aside 18 percent--or $27 million--of the program's remaining $150 million for city hall priorities, including affordable housing. The second suggested earmarking a mere $10 million to $12 million for an affordable-housing fund. On Monday, May 22, after a long meeting of parliamentary wrangling, another compromise emerged, setting aside $20 million over four years--$16 million for affordable housing and $4 million for commercial corridors. The policy board is scheduled to take public comments on the matter through June and cast a final vote in July.

What had happened? The plaid-shirt general, it turns out, had swung into action. Behind the scenes, Miller had hunkered down with MCDA executive director Steve Cramer to hammer out deals that offered something to both sides. Miller says he knew that "the votes weren't there" for leaving full control with the neighborhoods, but he wanted to steer away from alternatives that "left the neighborhoods with nothing."

Miller is too politic to claim victory before the final vote, or to suggest that he, little ol' Bob, could have done anything as canny as outmaneuver his political adversaries. Nah, he's just a guy doing what he can to get by in this crazy world. "I don't think its outflanking them," he claims. "I think it's doing what I was asked to do by the community."

If the NRP's history is any guide, Phase II won't unfold exactly as observers think it will--and no matter what happens, there will be plenty of second-guessing to go around. Then, in another eight years or so, it seems safe to expect a battle about finding a new source of cash to carry the program beyond its 2009 sunset date. Ask Miller what he thinks should happen then, and he just flashes that crazy-like-a-fox, Cheshire grin: "I don't want to play every card I have."

 

Sidebar

Where Has All the Money Gone?

THOSE WHO CRAFTED Minneapolis's Neighborhood Revitalization Program likely never envisioned that four neighborhoods (East Calhoun, East Harriet, Linden Hills, and Lynnhurst) would collectively spend $16,800 for a collection of environmental tips called a "clean water cookbook." Nor would they probably have guessed that some neighborhoods would earmark $1,000 each for radar guns to combat speeding motorists. Or that Victory residents would spend $10,000 to buy band equipment for the Loring School. Or that many neighborhoods would help fund so-called gateway art installations (to the tune of $70,000 in Phillips, more than $13,000 in Kingfield, and $30,000 in East Calhoun).

But they have done all that--and more. Analyzing how NRP money has been spent is a tricky proposition because each neighborhood's spending priorities are laid out in a separate neighborhood action plan, and projects are reported under multiple budget headings. Still, data kept by the NRP and the Minneapolis Community Development Agency (MCDA) allow for a broad-stroke breakdown of some of the largest NRP spending categories.

* The big picture:Total funding for the 20-year life of the program is $400 million.

* What has been allocated:Through early May, NRP projects approved by the policy board totaled $217.8 million. (An additional $11.8 million has been earmarked for neighborhoods whose final action plans have yet to be approved.)

* What's left for Phase II:$170.4 million. Of that, about $20 million is expected to pay for administration and a small subsidy to the city's Youth Coordinating Board, leaving roughly $150 million for the neighborhoods to spend.

* What it costs to run the program: To date, about $12.8 million has been allocated for the NRP's central office; in the second phase, estimates Bob Cooper, a Minneapolis Community Development Agency official who works with the NRP, the program will spend $2 million a year, for a total of $18 million. That brings the total administrative cost to nearly $31 million, or just less than 8 percent of the program's budget. Those numbers do not include neighborhood groups' staff and paperwork expenditures--a number officials say is hard to isolate from the various action plans.

* How much has been gobbled up by government agencies:$15.7 million of the NRP's total expenditures so far have been allocated to parks projects, including a new gymnasium in Whittier Park ($1.8 million) and a master plan for Loring Park ($1.1 million). At least $735,000 has been spent to plant roughly 8,500 trees in more than 20 neighborhoods. In addition, nearly $5 million has been allocated for school projects including computer labs, playground improvements, and special programs. And finally, $4.6 million has been slated for Hennepin County social programs, including youth and job projects, drug and alcohol outreach, and small-business training. Combined, schools, parks, and the county have attracted 11.6 percent of the NRP's funds so far.

* How much has been allocated for housing:Through the beginning of May, $98.5 million--or 45.6 percent of the total--has been designated for housing. State law requires 52.5 percent.

* Yeah, but what do you mean by housing?The MCDA's Cooper estimates that approximately $26 million of the NRP's housing funds has gone for administration, education, and other related programs. He figures that another $46 million has been spent on home-improvement loans or grants and programs to assist homebuyers; that figure also includes $5 million worth of projects to improve rental properties. The final $25 million has been designated for housing development.

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