November 5, 2012 by Sarah M
Update: Park Board President John Erwin called today and said that the Park Board will not be using money from the 35W bridge memorial fund for the dog park project. Erwin said that instead, the Park Board will use money from its reserve account and later pay the reserve account back through dog park permit revenue.
Erwin said he still supports the project and it’s budget, but wants the 35W memorial fund to remain in place in case of maintenance issues.
By Nick Halter
What started as a $32,500 project to build a dog park at Martin Luther King Jr. Park has now grown into a $215,000 expenditure that may require the Minneapolis Park Board to dip into an unused fund that was meant for the 35W bridge memorial.
The Park Board, after more than two years of debate, has finally received bids on a contract to construct a dog park at Lyndale Farmstead Park, on a 0.64 acre piece of land. The lowest bid came in last week at $191,400, which when combined with design and contingency costs, will well exceed the most recent project budget by about $80,000.
At $215,000 the new dog park will cost more to build than all five of the existing Park Board-funded dog parks in Minneapolis combined.
The Park Board on Wednesday will discuss a request to take money from three separate funds, including all $25,000 of a fund for the memorial along the Mississippi River to honor those who died in 35W bridge collapse of 2007.
Another $11,000 would come from a park furnishings fund and $10,000 would come from a neighborhood rehabilitation fund. Those funds are used for maintenance and repairs at neighborhood parks.
A staff report says reallocating money from the funds would be “without detriment to the three projects.”
Cliff Swenson, director of design and project management for the Park Board, said the 35W memorial fund was created within the last couple years. The memorial project was built by the city of Minneapolis, not the Park Board, and Swenson said there has been no reason for the Park Board to use the money.
“We had some money that we placed into an individual fund just in case there needed to be any additional plantings or anything else we could do, and of course the city has taken care of any safety issues and completed the entire project,” Swenson said. “So we really didn’t need that money anymore, so it just made sense to transfer it to the dog park project.”
In the summer of 2011, vandals defaced the 35W memorial multiple times. Swenson said the city handled the restoration of the memorial on those occasions, and the Park Board memorial fund was not needed.
Park Board Commissioner Brad Bourn, who represents Southwest on the Board, said he supports using money from the three funds.
“If there was a plaque waiting to be built for the 35W memorial, or if the project wasn’t done, absolutely I would have reservations with it,” Bourn said. “But it’s money sitting over from a project that is complete.”
The memorial was built on parkland. If any additional maintenance projects are needed at the memorial, Bourn said the Park Board has funds for maintenance projects.
Building a dog park in Southwest Minneapolis has proved to be a difficult project for the Park Board.
Citizens tried to get one built a dozen years ago, but the Park Board never approved a site.
Then, back in 2010, another group of citizens pushed for a dog park at MLK Park. In May of 2010, the group presented an estimate that the project would cost about $45,000, and members of a dog park task force were planning to raise funds to help offset the costs, said Sarah Linnes-Robinson, who was one of those pushing for the dog park at MLK.
The project, however, ran into protest from the black community about putting a dog park on land dedicated to a civil rights leader. The Park Board voted against using MLK as a site.
In February 2011, the Park Board appointed an 18-member citizens advisory committee to find a new site. The group chose what is now a piece of a parking lot in Lyndale Farmstead Park, near a storm water pond.
The Park Board estimated the base price for turning the site into a dog park would be $126,000.
The Park Board approved that site in December 2011, and sent out a press release saying the project budget would total $132,500 and that it would have the park open to dogs in 2012. Now, in early November, the Park Board still hasn’t approved a bid, construction hasn’t started and the budget has ballooned to $215,000.
The project had its skeptics. Commissioner Bob Fine and citizens advisory committee member Matt Perry both brought up issues with drainage and cost.
They were right. When plans called for spreading woodchips on the new dog park site, the Minneapolis Public Works Department stepped in and said the chips would run off into the storm water pond and break the water pumps.
Now the Park Board must use an expensive crushed granite material, which has increased the project budget, according to a staff report.
In 2011, Perry got a hold of numbers from the Park Board regarding other city dog park projects. The dog park near Lake of the Isles, at 3.6 acres, is fives times the size of the Lyndale Farmstead site. It cost only $62,000 to build. Lake of the Isles was the most expensive of the six existing dog parks in Minneapolis.
“I remember when they presented us with the original number ($126,000), and I remember thinking to myself, with the drainage issues, I figured the cost would be north of $175,000. I never dreamt it would be north of $200,000,” Perry said.
Perry said the Park Board should reconsider its decision, since public money is being used.
“There should be some triggers where you look at the costs for what was budgeted, what was projected, and what they have become, and really ask yourself, is it time to review the decision? Does it make sense to revisit the decision?” Perry said.
Despite the large budget, Bourn said he still supports the project. Bourn said that over time, the dog park will pay for itself and even generate revenue because of increased permit purchases to use the park. Plus, he said, the project turns a parking lot into a green space.
“When I look at the benefits it brings, it’s still a pretty positive piece,” Bourn said.
Update: David Brauer, a member of the citizens advisory committee, published this response. We’re reprinting with his permission.
I was on the task force with Matt. It would’ve been awesome (and cheaper) to built it at MLK, but you know … racial politics. No one else wanted to give up park space (there’s an “every blade of grass is precious” thing in Minneapolis), so in effect, new space neeed to be created. The price of that? More money spent. But also more parkland!
Two playgrounds at Lake Harriet are going in for $1.057 million. You can argue kids > dogs but there’s a substantial subset of people who feel differently.
Also, Commissioner Bourne’s point about dog license fees is sound. If I recall correctly, the Park Board grosses $200,000+ per year and spends a pittance on dog park maintenance. So it’s already a profit center. By dipping into unused funds now, the Park Board has chosen to pay it off up-front, but they could just as easily have financed it over time with money to spare. (Wouldn’t be as good a story, which is why gov’t finances and so rarely pays for things up front.)
The hope is that a dog park in SW Mpls, where there’s none but lots of $$, will be an amenity that brings in more fees. $200K ain’t nothing, but users pay and once we get past the dogged optics, all this will be forgotten. I hope.