As of mid-March, Minneapolis' Downtown Council had raised around $200,000 to give to an unlikely beneficiary: Target Corp.
The Downtown Council is raising the funds from a variety of sources, including other corporations, property owners, an education institution and even "relatively small nonprofits," according to Downtown Council Vice President of District Services Michael McLaughlin.
The fund-raiser's purpose is to pay back some of Target's approximately $1 million donation for the Safe Zone project, a network of 30 wireless cameras police use to watch Downtown's Nicollet, Hennepin and 1st avenues.
McLaughlin admitted that the process might seem a little strange.
"Why is the Downtown Council or anyone giving one of the largest corporations in the state a contribution?" he asked rhetorically. "You don't normally think of big corporations getting contributions."
Target put up almost all of the money it took to get the system running, McLaughlin said.
"The easiest way to think about it is that the contributions are actually going towards Safe Zone," he noted. "Target was the lead, they front-ended the resources needed to make this project a reality. The contributions are for the system."
(Company officials did not return repeated phone calls.)
Amounts given so far are from $1,000 to the suggested $25,000. The $200,000 already raised is four-fifths of the way to the $250,000 goal.
The Downtown Minneapolis Neighborhood Association (DMNA) is considering contributing, said DMNA board member Tom Hoch. He made an analogy between the funds being raised for Target and a Hennepin Avenue streetscape improvement he spearheaded a couple of years ago. The DMNA lent money to "jump-start" the project, Hoch said, then approached "all befitting property owners" for assessments to get the neighborhood's startup money back.
"I think the idea was that [the Safe Zone project] was intended to be a communitywide initiative, and Target took the lead," Hoch said. "Sometimes, practically speaking, something needs to be done. You need somebody to step out front and do it."
The $1 million fronted by Target was four times the original cost estimate, McLaughlin said. The total cost was actually around $1.8 million, he said, but Target convinced vendors to donate much of the labor for the project.
McLaughlin said that costs ran over because "infrastructure assumed to be in place within the city's street and electrical system either wasn't there or wasn't how they anticipated."
McLaughlin said that, by giving back to Target's initial contribution, "other stakeholders in the Downtown community can contribute to this remarkable program."
Said Hoch, "The safety of Downtown isn't entirely Targets' responsibility."
McLaughlin did not want to disclose who the contributors are until the fund-raising goal is met, which he expects will happen in the next 30 days.
DMNA - which covers the riverfront east of Hennepin and the Downtown core, including the Safe Zone streets - is likely to vote in April on a donation, Hoch said. He said he had the sense that it was something the DMNA should support.
A DMNA contribution, whatever the amount, would come from the neighborhood's Neighborhood Revitalization Project money, Hoch said. That would essentially mean city dollars going to Target Corp., in the name of Downtown neighborhood safety.
Like Hoch, Barbara Lickness, NRP neighborhood specialist for Downtown, compared the Downtown Council's Target campaign to DMNA's loan for Hennepin Avenue streetscaping. Lickness said that NRP funds commonly go toward safety in almost every neighborhood.
"Downtown is as much a residential [neighborhood] as it is commercial and retail neighborhood," Lickness said. "[Downtown residents] live and walk around Downtown; they want to be safe, too. It's very high on their priority [list.]"
There's nothing wrong with a neighborhood organization directing NRP funds for safety measures, even after the fact, according to Lickness.
NRP Director Bob Miller agreed. As long as the money is allocated in DMNA's neighborhood action plan - which it is, said Lickness - and the project benefits the public, NRP will reimburse the expenditure to the Downtown Council.
"The security cams are public, they're on the street to monitor that public area, and that's an important public service," Miller said. "Here, the benefit accrues to the public as much as it does Target."
In fact, Miller said he's seen this kind of front-end funding happen "many, many, many times." Waiting for expenditures of NRP money can take a long time, he said, sometimes long enough to put off other funding resources or kill a development project, for example.
As for how the money should be transferred, Miller deferred to Lickness, who said that the money would have to go through a government department such as Minneapolis Public Works. It was Public Works that collected assessments in the Hennepin streetscaping project, she said.
"While Target may be leading in this project, certainly, somewhere in there, the city has to be involved," Lickness said. "However it works, whoever needs to get reimbursed, it'll get there," she said. "I don't know how many hands it'll go through to get there."
Should the DMNA decided to allocate funds, McLaughlin said the Downtown Council would defer to them on how the logistics would work.
McLaughlin said that, on a basic level, the Downtown Council via its donors would be writing Target a check in the end.
"To some extent, it's a reimbursement function, but everyone involved understands that the scope of the project has stayed the same, but the financial piece got bigger," McLaughlin said.
When asked if the $250,000 could be used to expand the Safe Zone district, McLaughlin said it was possible, but there are no immediate expansion plans. Private property owners might invest in single cameras, he said - another way to contribute to the Downtown initiative - but right now, "folks wanted to contribute to the first phase of the program."