Civic beat :: Sculpture Garden removed from bill

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March 29, 2010 // UPDATED 8:22 am - March 29, 2010
By: Cristof Traudes
Cristof Traudes
Pawlenty deletes Sculpture Garden from bonding bill

Money for the proposed restoration of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden did not make it past Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s veto pen.

The project would improve energy efficiency at the popular park, as well as fix issues such as soil compression and dying vegetation. Backers have said there’s some urgency to it, and it was marked for $2 million in the Legislature’s bonding bill. But on March 15, Pawlenty announced he was cutting about $300 million from the bill’s $1 billion total.

“Like any family or business, state government needs to live within its means and follow a budget,” Pawlenty said.

The Sculpture Garden was grouped with projects such as a $2 million appropriation for Fridley’s Springbrook Nature Center and $1 million for the Theodore Wirth winter recreation center that the governor said are either too local, outside of the metropolitan regional park system or should be or already are being funded by the regional park capital improvement program.

“We certainly were in a lot of good company,” said Commissioner Anita Tabb of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.

The Park Board has partnered with the Walker Art Center on the Sculpture Garden since its creation two decades ago. The board led much of the work at the Capitol.

Tabb said the condition of the economy made it no big surprise that the project didn’t survive a veto. That didn’t make it any less disappointing, she said.

Phillip Bahar, the Walker’s chief of operations and administration, had a similar response. He said the outcome means the two parties will have to take a more piecemeal approach, applying for smaller funding streams such as energy efficiency credits or a watershed grant.

“There might be some other federal or state resources that we can tap into for elements of the project,” he said, “but not the entire project. Most likely, we’ll be back at the Capitol for the next round of bonding.”

In other bonding news, Pawlenty did not repeat his January deletion of funding for Downtown’s planned planetarium. The Legislature’s bill retained $22 million that had been promised to the Minneapolis Planetarium Society since 2005, a decision the governor didn’t strike.

It was a reversal from Pawlenty’s position in January, when he expressed concern that because fundraising for the project wasn’t progressing, it might no longer merit its bonding appropriation.

Society President Angus Vaughan said he was happy to have the monkey off of the project’s back, especially because losing $22 million would have meant the fundraising goal would have more than doubled. The project has a $35 million price tag.

After Pawlenty’s initial proposal, “we continued to make calls and talk to people and say we’re moving ahead,” he said. “We always felt that this was not going to be X’ed out of the bonding bill. But now there’s no doubt for any potential funders. It’s a huge relief.”

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Gurban out in July; Fisher set to return

A superintendent swap is coming, if only temporarily.

Jon Gurban will not serve as the head of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board beyond June 30. The controversial head of the parks system sent a letter to the board president March 12 saying he does not want an extension of his contract.

“I’ve had a great run!” Gurban wrote, but it’s a run he said he’s willing to see come to an end. He was first hired in 2003.

Commissioners had voted earlier this year to begin a search for a new superintendent, saying it was time to move on. Because that process is expected to last beyond Gurban’s contractual end date — the board is targeting completion by October — commissioners had discussed keeping him on on an interim basis.

The board instead unanimously voted to give a popular former superintendent a four-month contract.

David Fisher led the parks system for almost two decades, from 1981–1998. His tenure included overseeing many of the first steps in redeveloping the Mississippi riverfront and the creation of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. Perhaps most key, however, is that he also led the Park Board when it last hosted the National Recreation and Park Association’s annual conference, which it is doing again this year.

President John Erwin said it would be beneficial to have Fisher’s knowledge when organizing that major national event. Fisher also could play a positive role in recruiting the system’s next superintendent, he said.

Fisher is expected to serve as interim superintendent from July 1 through Oct. 31. He’ll be paid $50,000 plus “reasonable travel expenses.”

Gurban, meanwhile, will be kept on as a consultant for the next superintendent. Commissioners unanimously voted to offer him a one-year contract that will pay him about $20,000 in cash and benefits.