In a last vestige of the public funding debate over U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, legal wrangling continues over the Commons park. Regardless of which side ultimately prevails, the city and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) should work together to keep the 4.2-acre downtown green space open and operational.
Changing the ownership and funding structure for the park could become necessary because of a lawsuit brought by former City Council Member Paul Ostrow and former council candidate John Hayden. They argued that the city violated its own charter by agreeing with the Park Board to be financially involved in developing and operating the park. They also object to the city’s deal with the Vikings to use the park for a certain number of days each year for free. That contract, they believe, should be renegotiated to include some payment from the Vikings.
On Dec. 31, a judge ruled that under the charter the city has no authority to operate and spend funds on parks. The court issued a summary judgment that says the city also may not agree with a third party to do so. City officials are expected to appeal.
Despite opposition to taxpayer support for the stadium and the park, both are up and running now. According to Green Minneapolis, the nonprofit that runs the park, 600,000 people visited it in 2018 — including 70,000-plus during the Super Bowl — and 32 events generated about $49,000 in revenue. It would serve no one and undercut the millions of dollars already invested to simply stop supporting park maintenance and operations.
The city sold the Commons to the Park Board for $1, and the board then leased it back to the city. Green Minneapolis receives funding from the city, and $750,000 is budgeted this year.
But it’s worth noting that the Commons is not the only open space or park that is operated by the city, a nonprofit or a community group. According to city officials, the Park Board has similar partnership agreements with Minneapolis Public Schools where the two entities have adjoining pieces of land, as well as deals governing a portion of Nicollet Island, the memorial to the I-35W bridge collapse and a building at Theodore Wirth Park.
The city argued in court that the Commons agreement is “simply another example of the MPRB’s long history of collaborating with partners to carry out its charter mission.”
If the decision by Hennepin County District Judge Bruce Peterson stands, Minneapolis and the MPRB should work together to find a solution that both meets the court’s interpretation of jurisdiction and funding and keeps the park in operation.
Such an agreement could involve waiving annual fees that the Park Board now pays to the city and instead using those funds for the Commons. The Park Board could also end the lease agreement with the city and take over operation of the downtown park.
The Editorial Board has previously argued in favor of using public-private partnerships and conservancies such as Green Minneapolis. It’s a system that has worked well for other city spaces that don’t necessarily fall neatly into the Park Board’s vision for neighborhood parks. And it’s one the city and MPRB should continue — even if it involves a new model for funding ownership and operation of public spaces.