City resuscitates neighborhood revitalization

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NPR funds are set to pay for a facelift for the 50th Street LRT station area.

The City of Minneapolis has introduced a plan to keep alive the ailing, 18-year-old Neighborhood Revitalization Project (NRP), proposing among other things, a subsidy of at least $2 million a year to cover administrative costs for the city’s some 70 individual neighborhood associations.

The Standish-Ericsson Neighborhood Association (SENA) had to call for votes in December about moving $25,000 of unused NRP funds that had been set aside for area home improvement loans into its general operations budget. The SENA board said that it needed the money to provide operating funds for the association through February 2008.

“The money for covering the costs of staffing and other administrative expenditures was a general recommendation from just about everybody who wants the NRP to continue,” said City Council Member Scott Benson (DFL-Ward 11).

“Without staffs, neighborhood associations would cease to exist,” said Council Member Betsy Hodges (DFL-Ward 13).

The recommendation to pay for the staffing of neighborhood associations was made in a Dec. 20 report to the City Council by a work group put together only a few weeks prior, charged with addressing the future of the NRP. The group also called for the City to provide neighborhood groups with some discretionary funding for locally-identified projects and to add as a new budget item a resident-controlled board to oversee both the NRP and the City’s community participation efforts. These would be combined into a new Community Participation Division organized under the city coordinator with a million dollar a year subsidy.

NRP is paying for a big facelift in the southeast corner of the Nokomis area. The sites that are being developed under the the watchful eye of the Nokomis East Neighborhood Association include land along Riverview Road and 54th Street and a remodel of the 50th Street and VA Medical Center LRT station areas.

In its lifetime, the NRP has been given the use of almost $275 million by the City Council. A web PDF with the tag, “NRPHighlights1996” says, in part—“A gymnasium, new fields and playgrounds have been completed at Pearl Park. Ground was broken for the Standish-Ericsson Wetlands Project. Gala Foods, a full-service grocery store, has opened in the Bancroft neighborhood. At least 2,600 single-family homes and 139 rental buildings have been improved with funds from NRP loan and grant programs. More than $22 million has been committed through 1998 to home improvement and home-buyer assistance programs in the plans approved to date, including funds for deferred loan and revolving home improvement loan programs. In 1996 alone, $6.5 million has been spent for home improvement and homebuyer assistance programs in 25 neighborhoods. These dollars leveraged an additional private investment of at least $10 million. Every neighborhood in the city has become a voluntary NRP participant.”

Created by state and city law in 1990 and dependent almost exclusively upon tax increment revenues, the NRP has been crippled in recent years by changes made to the state tax system in 2001, cuts in local government aid coming from the state and the overall slow growth of property values. In addition, funds from the repository used to collect money for the NRP, something called the “Common Project,” have been used by the City to replenish money it had taken from another of its accounts, something called the “Legacy Fund,” to pay bills. The Legacy Fund was established with the $40.5 million that the City of Minneapolis made from the sale of the downtown Hilton Minneapolis in 1999.

Part of the City’s efforts in the planning of what is to be called the Neighborhood Investment Fund was to ask for input from its residents. Four workday evening meetings were held the last week of January with a final one scheduled for noon at City Hall on Feb. 4.

“They were mainly meetings for getting information into the hands of people in the neighborhoods who’ll be handling the issues,” said Council Vice President and NRP Work Group member, Robert Lilligren (DFL-Ward 6). According to Lilligren, neighborhood association staff are expected to come back with their recommendations after a 45-day review period with April 3 set as the date that the Council’s Committee of the Whole will get another update.

“It’ll all come to the full council for a vote by mid-year,” said Lilligren.

But according to Lilligren, the City’s ability to provide funding for neighborhood investment lies not with City finances, but with the ability of the City, the county, the neighborhoods—and everyone else who has an interest in the continuing development of the city—to persuade others (primarily the State Legislature and other taxing jurisdictions).

“I think what’s going to be important at the Legislature is we all have a unified voice,” said Lilligren.

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