3.8 Funding Challenges and Typical Problems

Last but not least, below are a few common funding challenges that public realm projects face.

  • Can’t raise enough capital. In this case you must plan to phase the project or complete some elements at a later date. At the same time, you have to make sure that the project looks and feels complete even if some elements must be deferred or eliminated.
  • Cost overruns during construction. Construction budgets all include percentage based “contingencies” (extra money in case something goes wrong) but some things cannot be predicted. What will you do if costs rise above the amount of funds raised? Can you raise more funds? Or will you have to cut someplace?
  • Overly optimistic fundraising goals. It is easy at the beginning of a project to believe that the idea is so good that it will be easy to raise all of the required funds. In fact, it is very hard, and it gets harder when multiple, similar, competing projects are all trying to raise funds at the same time. For example, in Minneapolis between 2015 and 2019, fundraising efforts were ongoing for the Waterworks, the Commons, and Peavey Plaza, all at the same time. It is important to have realistic expectations for fundraising because it is easy to remove valued features during design and early construction but these losses may weaken the vison and be out of alignment with expectations and promises to the public and the funders. It is also increasingly difficult to raise funds for the deferred features later, when time has moved on and people are focused on other new shiny projects.
  • It is very difficult to fundraise for deficits and operating losses in the case of a project or program that has gone wrong somehow. No one wants to throw money at a big problem that was caused by over-optimism, incompetence, or malfeasance, particularly when it may be too late to fix, which is often the case.
  • Last but not least, no one wants to pay to fix old pipes or other broken things you can’t see – there is nothing sexy about it. Offer to let people fund the large, visible features, like the revitalized fountain or the new benches or trees. In these cases, distribute a share of the costs of providing invisible pipes to the toilets into the visible fountains and increase/round-up these value for fundraising purposes.


Picture of people celebrating the grand opening of Peavey Plaza.
Figure 39. Grand Opening of Peavey Plaza, July 2019. Author.


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

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