The Yard: A vision for a park we can all be proud of

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August 26, 2014
By: Max Musicant
Max Musicant

The Yard is at a crossroads, with the two-block long “park” being perilously close to tipping towards becoming a barren private plaza — more akin to a rentable event venue than a truly public space. Rather than pointing fingers we need to collectively move forward. By working together creatively we can still realize a truly special public space in the heart of our city. 

A vision for what is possible 

In five years the Yard should be a year round destination, pulsating with energy from morning to night with area residents, office workers, and visitors from around the region and world. They will come for the occasional spectacular, like major concerts and sporting events, but more so for the special every day experiences. They will come for a snack from food vendors, or perhaps to celebrate a special occasion at the onsite sit down restaurant. They will form new rituals: chess with fellow citizens, a book from the outdoor lending library, a game of ping pong, a ride on a swing set, a splash in the fountain, a gift from a weekly market. They will stay and linger among movable tables and chairs, soaking in the sun, trees, flowers, dancers, jugglers, singers, and the wonderful energy of a space truly shared and used by all.

A way forward

How will we create a “Yard” such as this? Three things must occur. First, the Yard must be designed, managed, and programmed with the year round everyday use of the public in mind. Regardless of how often the MSFA and Vikings monopolize the park, the Yard must be designed for active, every day use. The best parks in our own system and across the world don’t rely on just one element to serve the public, but a dense array of physical amenities, activities, and events to provide a dynamic and delightful experience to all (think of Lake Harriet and Minnehaha Falls). There is also safety in crowds and danger in empty spaces. Using the rule of needing one person per 300 square feet of space in order to make a place safe, the Yard needs to draw over 5,000 people a day. That is a lot of people. By creating many things to do, see, and experience, we can ensure the Yard is not only fun, but also safe.

Second, whatever entity manages the Yard must be equipped with adequate sources of funds for operations. Public spaces succeed or fail based on their stewardship. Bryant Park in New York and our entire Minneapolis Parks system are great examples of the benefits of public spaces (or entire networks) that thrive when they have reliable, adequate, and dedicated revenue sources. Peavey Plaza in Downtown Minneapolis is an example of the opposite; a compelling design that suffered from a lack of maintenance.

Third, if a conservancy is the entity that cares for the Yard, in addition to being adequately funded, it needs to be fully accountable and have the explicit mandate to serve the public. A public-private partnership is likely needed, but making the conservancy must be established with the explicit mandate to care for the Yard for the public’s explicit benefit.

Paying for it all

Capital costs are relatively easy to raise, the hard part is funding the (more important and far less sexy) maintenance. The Yard will require between $3-$5 million annually — where are these funds going to come from? Public and private entities need to come together to share the burden, but also the benefit of creating our new crown jewel. Sources of funding should include: MPRB’s and DID’s combined take from the Downtown East Developments (approximately $300,000 and $150,000), 10% of revenue from concessions ($200,000-$500,000), and event rental fees ($50,000-$200,000). All this adds up to between $650,000 and $1.1 million — a good amount, but not nearly enough. Additional strategies to fill the gap could include: renegotiating the agreement between the City, Ryan, and the MSCA, creating a new property tax assessment district solely dedicated to the care of the Yard, having the Yard capture and clean storm water from  the surrounding area and claim related funds, or even shrinking the size of the park in order to cut costs. Private donations should only be used for the design and construction of the Yard as they are never a reliable source of operating funds over the long term.

By designing a dynamic and attractive space with a well funded entity to manage and actively program The Yard, we can still salvage this project and create a park that we can all be proud of. But if we don’t act soon, Wells Fargo, the Vikings, the MSFA, the City of Minneapolis, and our region will come to regret a once in a generation missed opportunity.

Max Musicant is the Founder and Principal of the award winning, Minneapolis based placemaking and public space management firm The Musicant Group.