Mayor Betsy Hodges wants to spend $11 million beautifying the Convention Center plaza

Who would think such a beautiful place needs almost $11 million.

Who would think such a beautiful place needs almost $11 million.

The Minneapolis Convention Center plaza features plush grass, huge, funky animal sculptures, and fine trees.

But Mayor Betsy Hodges doesn't think it's living up to its potential. Hodges wants to plant more trees, level its tilted slope, and install electricity hookups and tent anchors so NFL VIPS might hob-knob inside party tents when Super Bowl LII comes to town in 2018.

The renovation won't come cheap. She wants to spend nearly $11 million.   

Hodges' spokesperson David Prestwood says it's needed to "maximize the space." And it "makes sense to do it now" because the city is slated to also host the X Games and the 2019 Final Four.

But not everyone would agree it's a must.  

The job of the 33-member, citizen-led Capital Long-Range Improvement Committee is to review spending requests. Most recently, it scrutinized 97 projects, the plaza among them.

The others included construction of a new fire station and sidewalk and intersection improvements so that kids can safely walk and bicycle to school. 

The panel graded the proposals on various criteria such as level of need, cost, and public benefit. They were competing for a funding pool totaling about $150 million.

But the committee ranked the plaza 95th out of 97. The bottom-feeding grade largely stemmed from the high cost to largely serve convention patrons. The committee recommended it get nothing.

Its top priorities were far less sexy: the repair of sewers, storm drains and sanitary tunnels, plus diseased tree removal. 

"I can't speak for whole committee… but my personal opinion is that funding the plaza really doesn't address the core capital needs like wastewaster management and roads that were largely neglected in the past that we're now we're playing catch up on," says committeeman Jim Kumon says.

"I get the argument that it would be an investment to increase [convention center] revenues, but over the long haul is this a really great investment of $21 million [the total originally requested]? Personally, I think there are other ways."  

Fortunately for Hodges, the committee's opinion doesn't mean much. The other projects on the list are beholden to a bonding revenue. But the convention center has its own separate funding.  

"It gets, shall we say, to play by different rules," says Kumon. "They only ask us for money because the city's rule says they have to. And although we're not necessarily a fan of this, the plaza project could get funded if it's approved in the final budget."

Thus, the only ones standing between spending $11 million on lights, grading, and trees at the convention center plaza is the Minneapolis City Council.