Buried late in the Minneapolis City Council November 20 meeting was a nugget about the Commons Park fundraising campaign. The four-acre green space adjacent to the new football stadium is currently under construction, yet an estimated $15 million is still needed to complete the project. It's slated to open next summer.
To that end, the council approved the acceptance of charitable donations to the project.
Minneapolis taxpayers have already ponied up in excess of $20 million for the park, even though it will often be off-limits to the public. An agreement gives first dibs to the Vikings for up to 60 days a year. The Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, the public entity overseeing stadium construction, will get another 40 days.
The nonprofit conservancy Green Minneapolis is charged with raising the $15 million. And how is that fundraising coming along?
City spokesman Matt Lindstrom won't say, referring questions to the Minneapolis Downtown Council President Steve Cramer.
Cramer will only say that "substantial" new financial commitments have been made, but he's not at liberty to reveal them. He believes they'll be made public early "next year."
But this much is clear: Any shortcoming will be picked up by the residents of Minneapolis. And city sources have expressed concern that the campaign will fall short by roughly $7 million.
While Green Minneapolis is assigned to harvest donations, it's not legally on the cuff to pay a cent if efforts should fall short. That leaves taxpayers, who are also responsible for paying for an estimated $3 million in annual operation and maintenance costs.
The writing was on the wall — the public's pocketbook would likely eat any unpaid tab — two months ago. In September, the city council approved re-labeling $2 million the city fronted the park for design and construction. Minneapolis was supposed to be reimbursed by future fundraising. When that appeared unlikely, the city re-labeled it a "donation."
Councilman Jacob Frey, whose ward includes the park, says changing the outlay to a gift shows the city is upping its “skin in the game.” Potential donors, in turn, will be moved to write checks, he believes.
But before the "donation" vote, Mayor Betsy Hodges successfully silenced discussion that could've stalled the project. The mayor called council members, telling them anything but a rubber stamp would be unwelcome, according to some who are intimate with the communications.
Only council members Cam Gordon and Blong Yang dissented. Andrew Johnson flew solo about the donation issue. Taxpayers had already demonstrated a steep financial commitment, Johnson said. The city should get back the $2 million, not add it.
Mayor Hodges got her wish. No one raised the unanswered question: Who's paying the park tab if the conservancy's fundraiser comes up short?
The Council’s Community Development & Regulatory Services Committee could be faced with that question when it meets Dec. 1.