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Hoping to break ground on the Minneapolis park system's biggest-ever construction project in a neighborhood park by 2025, the Minneapolis Parks Foundation is officially launching a long-anticipated capital campaign to raise $20 million in private donations for a massive redesign of North Commons Park in north Minneapolis.

The campaign is already more than halfway to its goal after a single charity (which asked not to be identified) donated $10 million — the largest single gift ever given to the Parks Foundation, the Park Board's primary philanthropic partner.

"That was really a wonderful thing that happened," said Jennifer Downham, chief development officer of the Parks Foundation. "[The donors] saw this as a real way to make a huge, long-lasting impact because you know, parks are free and open 365 days a year."

Downham said the gift is particularly appreciated because the cost of the project has gone up significantly.

North Commons Park, at 1801 James Av. N., sits between North High School and the West Broadway business corridor. It is best known for its towering water park, heavily used basketball gym redone just before the pandemic as a Final Four community tribute project, and an oak grove that spans the southern half of the park, providing a retreat from the city. Its loved and worn recreation center is 52 years old.

Nearly a decade ago, community advocates re-envisioned North Commons as a regional sports hub where youth tournaments could be hosted and suburban teams invited to north Minneapolis, rather than the other way around, as it typically happens. Extensive debates over the scope of change, fears of gentrification and the ballooning cost of construction ensued. A project initially budgeted for $20 million grew to $35 million before park commissioners last fall finally settled on a concept. Plans call for doubling the size of the recreation center and adding three new gyms, a fitness center, concessions, a dedicated senior room and a fully rebuilt water park with two slides.

The Park Board has ranked this project as its No. 1 state bonding request multiple years in row, highlighting its ability to help combat youth violence and strengthen community connections. It's one of few free activity centers in an area that has struggled with low public school enrollment and perpetual business vacancies.

The agency has amassed about $12 million in public funding from state and federal sources as well as its own coffers, but was snubbed by the Legislature last year. It is asking the state for $12 million more this year.

"Funding for a transformational project like the North Commons Park effort takes significant leadership from both private philanthropists as well as public officials," said Parks Superintendent Al Bangoura. "We are working with our elected officials as well as the Minneapolis Parks Foundation to raise the capital and programming dollars needed for this amazing public resource."

All donations collected by the Parks Foundation before the launch of its capital campaign total $11.9 million, leaving $8.1 million to go. Donors can contribute at