The new Commons park will require more blood from Minneapolis taxpayers

The Park Board, which never wanted anything to do with the Commons, may now have to pay the outstanding tab because nobody else will.

The Park Board, which never wanted anything to do with the Commons, may now have to pay the outstanding tab because nobody else will.

Back in 2013, when former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak was telling the city it would be fabulous to have a park adjacent the new football stadium, Rybak said Minneapolis taxpayers wouldn't have to pay for it. Revenue from new parking ramps would cover the tab, he pledged.

"Park operations are intended to be covered by the commitment of nonprofit sponsorships within the park," he wrote. 

Rybak's promise turned out to be a pipe dream.

Last July, the city paid about $20 million for the Downtown East Commons park. Miscellaneous investments along the way have jacked that number closer to $25 million for the 4.2-acre green space -- a.k.a., "the People's Park," a.k.a., the "Great Lawn," a.k.a., "The kitchen table for our city" -- according to City Council Member Jacob Frey.

It's now looking like the "worst development deal" in Minneapolis, with taxpayers also on the hook to help cover yearly maintenance and operating costs estimated around $2-plus million.

Green Minneapolis is a conservancy created by the Downtown Council. It exists through a city subsidy and fundraising. The nonprofit is responsible for managing the Commons. It was supposed to convince private donors and business interests to pony up $22 million to complete the project.

Since its efforts have stalled at $14 million for some time — and that sum includes a short-term loan from the park’s developer, Ryan Cos. — it now looks like the city is going to hit up the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board for the needed capital.  

It's an ironic development, considering the Park Board never wanted anything to do with the park. The entity was forced to be the owner of the land the Commons sits on. It was told it had to lease it back to the city so Minneapolis could have its park. What this goofy union means now is the city can access the Board's money to finish the Commons at a time there's nowhere else to turn.    

The city and the Board are in the process of making a deal that would funnel about $8 million for the park. The cash can only be applied to improvements, not maintenance costs.   

Green Minneapolis Executive Director Beth Shogren won't say why the conservancy is getting outside help with the fundraising.

"This is a city-led effort…. Why this is a good idea or why it came to be, I can't comment on any of that," says Shogren. "This is between the city and the Park Board and the city and the Park Board came up with this idea."

Not true, a source inside the Park Board tells City Pages. The source, who would only speak off-the-record, says the tapping the fees was an idea that came from City Hall.