1.5 Timing and How does it all start?

Urban public realm projects are initiated for a number of different reasons. In some cases, they start as routine capital projects, for example, the reconstruction of a street. In other cases, a major private stakeholder or group of stakeholders may push for a project that they hope will achieve some goal. Here are some examples of how some recent Minneapolis projects have started:

Street Reconstruction:
A routine city capital project, initiated by city public works department when a street is at the end of its useful life and publicly funded with a combination of federal, state, and local dollars (cash or bond proceeds backed by tax dollars generated by street assessments).

Signature Downtown Street Redesign and Reconstruction:
The business community approaches the city and asks that the city begin the project with the idea that it will be funded 50/50 with public and private funds. The public funds are to be a combination of state and city funds and the private funds are to be generated through an area-wide special assessment (an additional tax) on all private property owners downtown who will benefit from the project. The street is considered to be the front door of Minneapolis, the Twin Cities, and the State for business and the first and most important impression for many businesspeople and visitors from out of town. This is “Minnesota’s Main Street” and the business community considers it a “must-see destination.” The street is over 25 years old and in need of replacement.

New Playground:
Special capital project by the parks department or park board and funded with tax dollars and some private fundraising. Driven by nearby neighbors and the neighborhood association who asked the MPRB to undertake the project. This is in a rapidly growing neighborhood where there previously had been little housing and few children. The site is a comfortably shaped and located piece of land on the riverfront that all can agree is suitable for a playground.

New Park:
Privately funded new signature park, initiated by a wealthy donor and paid for entirely with private funds. Process began with a city RFP for the sale and development of City-owned property with the idea that the parcel would be attractive to housing developers. Several housing developers proposed, along with a private individual who offered to personally fund a new park instead, and elected officials approved of and supported that vision. The private donor hired the landscape architect and paid for design and construction and then turned the park over to the city. The private donor also helped create an operating fund although operating duties and costs are now shared between the City and the fund.

Signature Downtown Park:
Creation of a large new urban park in the center of downtown – the first new urban park in a century in support of a larger, district-scaled, mixed-use development that included a new NFL stadium, two office towers, ground floor and skyway retail, skyway connections, parking garage, pedestrian bridge, and a hotel all surrounding the new public park. Funded by the NFL Team, the State, the City, and a private development company. Developed on land owned by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB), leased back to the city, with improvements owned by the City, and all operated by a non-profit operator under contract to the city. Complicated.

Historic Riverfront Park Including Restaurant:
The Minneapolis Park Foundation (MPF) and key leaders and donors propose to raise funds for the creation of a new park and restaurant at a historic location on the riverfront. The project will be funded by a park foundation fundraising effort, and owned and operated by the park board once completed. A major feature will be a destination café/restaurant with an award-winning chef located in a restored historic building on the riverfront. (The MPF is different from the MBRB, which owns and operates the City’s park system. The MPF is a charitable non-profit organization that raises funds for new park capital projects that the MPRB will then own and operate once complete.)

New Bridge Connection:
Traffic is rearranged to accommodate the new US Bank stadium project and one freeway ramp is replaced with a new one in a different location, freeing up the old ramp for new uses. The state (MNDOT) donates the abandoned ramp to the City. Demolition of the redundant ramp would be costly and so the mayor has the vision to redevelop the old highway ramp into a new community pedestrian bridge connecting an immigrant community with downtown.

Other GeneralPurposes:

  • Reinvest in an old facility that needs to be revitalized
  • Create a new facility for uses and needs that did not previously exist
  • Redevelop parking lots and under-utilized or blighted properties for better uses
  • Activate a place and welcome people
  • Enhance safety – real and perceived – in two ways: Personal security/crime, and pedestrian and bicycle safety from injury from cars
  • Modify social behavior and enhance the experience and use of a place
  • Create, strengthen, enhance connections between places
  • Provide public facilities for bicycles and pedestrians that re-balance modes, reduce the dominance of the automobile, and reduce death and injury due to traffic accidents
  • Vanity projects where a strong advocate with an interest, funds, and/or influence promotes a project that may not be the highest priority from the standpoint of the public or government. Maybe an individual or small group of individuals or a non-profit organization or leader/individual


Producing the Urban Public Realm: Field Notes on Project Implementation Copyright © by Peter Hendee Brown. All Rights Reserved.

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