Eagan Needs Luxury Homes

Tony Caponi's 60-acre suburban sculpture garden, where he has lived since 1949, could have a future as a permanent art park-- or another housing development

"We don't know what will happen to the park," says Ken Vraa, who has been on the Caponi Art Park board from the get-go and has served as director of Eagan's park board for the past 21 years. "We have a campaign that's ready to kick off, but it's late in the game and we just don't know." Vraa reports that the board has gotten off to a slow start, having underestimated the amount of work needed to run an effective fundraising effort. He also cites the many staffing and structural changes they have experienced in recent years.

The park board director has a few choice words to say about the failed 1996 parks referendum. This plan, Vraa recalls, would have authorized funds for the city to potentially buy 22 different parcels of land, of which Caponi's was just one. By the park board director's account, a small band of citizens launched a successful attack against the initiative two weeks before the vote--eventually blocking what Vraa argues would have amounted to a $12 property tax increase per Eagan homeowner. In the wake of this experience, Vraa contends that many people may verbally support Caponi and his dream, but they act more hesitantly when the time comes to take out their checkbooks.

"Some people think that [Caponi] is just in this for self-enrichment," Vraa says. "That's just wrong. He is not very wealthy to begin with and doesn't have a real income stream. He could have sold the land years ago, but he really wants to leave a legacy that's enduring. His vision is just incredible."

Cast out of the garden? Sculptor Tony Caponi with one of his creations
Raoul Benavides
Cast out of the garden? Sculptor Tony Caponi with one of his creations

Yet the question lingers: If Caponi is so determined to preserve the park, why doesn't he just give it outright to the nonprofit foundation, or at least significantly reduce the price tag? Though one suspects that Caponi may yet play that card if the tax situation becomes desperate, for now, no such proposal is on the table. In the meantime, none of the Eagan officials contacted for this story had a skeptical word to say about the virtue of Caponi's project--but neither, it seems, have they moved the situation closer to resolution.

Vraa, who has witnessed Eagan run its full 20-year fast track to development, believes the loss of Caponi's park would cause irreparable damage to the suburb. "You know, it's a young city and sometimes people forget the value of art and community," he explains. "They're just so busy laying sod down in their backyard or trying to get their kids to T-ball practice. Then, when the city gets older, people may finally start to want a preserved open green space. Well, people need to realize that space exists now at Caponi's, because time is running out."

Despite his disappointment with the predicament, Caponi, for his part, does not place heavy blame on the ten volunteer board members. But he remains adamant that he will preserve every acre of the park, even if he has to turn to other sources besides the foundation.

"I'm not a quitter," he proclaims, shaking both fists. "The park will be; there is nothing else. I may become destitute, but the park will be here no matter what."

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