Public-Private Conservancy Likely Next Step for Downtown East Park

Updated: 08/07/2014 10:44 PM By: Stephen Tellier

While the green space planned for the west side of the new Vikings stadium was billed as a public park, it's looking increasingly private. On Wednesday night, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board decided it would take no part in developing or maintaining the park, planned as the public centerpiece of the new Downtown East.

The biggest question now hanging over the project is, "Who's going to pay for it?"

"Adding parks is part of what continues to make Minneapolis a travel-to spot," said Alyssa Carlson, while walking across the Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis.

Some say the planned green space next to the new Vikings stadium is not your traditional public park.

"It is a different animal. It really is," said Steve Cramer, president and CEO of the Minneapolis Downtown Council.

At "The Yard," as some are calling it, the Vikings come first. The park doesn't even exist yet, and a hypothetical calendar drawn up by the MPRB is already chock full of stadium-related events. That, combined with an estimated $6 million price tag to build just the most basic park infrastructure, and the park board said, "No thanks."

"I think there are a lot of folks that are committed to making sure that 'The Yard,' or whatever it ends up being called, is fabulously successful," Cramer said. "It's going to be a big cost, there's no question about that. And it's going to be a combination, I think, of public and private resources."

That has stakeholders talking up a "conservancy;" a new, public-private entity that would be formed specifically to run the park.

"That organization could potentially step into the role of operating and maintaining and programming, and help raise some of the funds to make 'The Yard' successful," Cramer said.

The Vikings and the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority also both bristled at the suggestion that the park won't be a truly "public" park, saying even Vikings events will be non-ticketed, non-exclusive events open to the general public.

Park lovers certainly hope so.

"I think it's a fantastic idea," Carlson said.

While there is no firm deadline on when the park's financing needs to be in place, the park is supposed to open in 2016. So, the clock is ticking.

The Vikings have already committed $1 million for the park, and the city of Minneapolis says it has enough money to cover the rest -- but only for the basics. The city plans to issue a request for proposals for a landscape architect this fall, and hopes to have an exact design -- and cost -- for the park next summer.