UMN neighborhoods look to allocate thousands for local park improvements

Minneapolis neighborhoods must abide by certain requirements when allocating city money for green space.

Currie Park is seen on Thursday, May 31, 2018 in Minneapolis

Ellen Schmidt

Currie Park is seen on Thursday, May 31, 2018 in Minneapolis

Brooke Sheehy

By collecting mandatory fees paid to the city, neighborhood groups near the University of Minnesota have hundreds of thousands of dollars to spend on park upkeep — but they’re still deciding how to allocate the money.

A survey by the Southeast Como Improvement Association, which closed at the end of December, asked residents for input on how to best spend park dedication fees for improvements to Van Cleve Park. 

Park dedications are made up of funds paid by developers of residential, commercial or industrial projects. Each neighborhood collects $1,614 per unit for new or additional residential units, or $215 per development employee, for new or expanded industrial or commercial buildings. 

The fees go to the project’s neighborhood to ensure green space in the area keeps up with development, according to the city ordinance. 

“Today [park dedication fees] actually provide services that are accommodating new needs based on the new residents who live within the community,” said Marcy Holmes Neighborhood Association Executive Director Chris Lautenschlager.

Park dedication fees must be spent in the neighborhood they were collected, and they must go toward park system developments or improvements like land acquisition, new recreation centers or other new amenities. The fees cannot be used for maintenance of existing projects. 

After evaluating the survey’s results, SECIA’s board will address the community on how the neighborhood will allocate its fee funds at its Feb. 4 meeting. SECIA Executive Director Alex Farrell said the survey’s biggest requests included improved lighting, native flowers and rain gardens, sand volleyball courts and public art in Van Cleve Park.

Como has an available sum of $214,402.20 in park dedication fees, none of which has gone to specific projects yet.  

Available funds vary widely across Minneapolis depending on how much new development a neighborhood has seen. 

Prospect Park has already allocated $1,419,471.40 toward a new unnamed park adjacent to the Prospect Park light rail station. 

The neighborhood has no specific plans to spend the remaining $612,602, said Julia Wallace, a University faculty member and staff neighborhood contact for Prospect Park. She said allocating park dedication fees can prove difficult given the specific requirements for projects. 

“Since those funds must be used for new or enhanced capital investments, it is hard to spend rather modest amounts and make a difference,” Wallace said.

The Marcy-Holmes neighborhood has yet to allocate any funding from its $1,495,286.30 in park dedication fees. 

MHNA has received a number of recommendations from the community on how to allocate this money, including a new dog park or basketball court at Marcy Park or a new adult fitness space at Elwell Park, Lautenschlager said. 

“By large, the community doesn’t understand fully what’s possible versus what’s not possible when it comes to these the park dedication fees,” Lautchenschlager said. “It’s not as if you can just purchase a new swing set and call it a day.”