Residents blast city-weighted version of NRP

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“Your mother, Barbara [Johnson, City Council President], had the vision for this. Mayor Fraser had the vision for this, remember that,” said Nancy Przymus of 23rd Avenue NE, a former city employee who retired in May when, she said, she “could no longer feel effective” working with the present administration.

She was a district planner at the time the Minneapolis Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP) was first developed in the late 1980s. “NRP happened because we needed a real voice. It is lauded across the world as an example, and should not under your watch be destroyed,” she told the Minneapolis City Council Committee of the Whole’s public hearing on the proposed “Framework for the Future” Aug. 20, from its NRP work group.

The document, shortened to “Framework” from “Framework for the Future: Options for the focus, funding and governance of NRP Program and Action Plan activities after 2009,” calls for recognizing the work of neighborhood groups as a necessary city service, but bringing assistance for their functions under the City Coordinator’s office and an advisory board, rather than the current independent NRP Policy Board which operates under a quasi-joint powers agreement.

Recent city attorney interpretations of 2008 state legislation have cast doubt on the new funding sources for the plan. An 11th-hour provision in the tax bill allowed the tax increment financing districts, which funded NRP, to be changed into “transformation districts” that would reduce Target Center debt as well as fund “neighborhood revitalization purposes.” The attorney’s opinion puts strict bricks-and-mortar interpretation on those purposes, and does not allow the money to be used for administration; unless the intent can be clarified in the next legislative session.

The current funding mechanism for NRP ceases by law in 2009, though the Policy Board has no sunset. Neighborhood Action Plans are still being carried out with funding already committed. And revolving loan funds gradually return money to be lent out again.

All 35 speakers in the 135-minute hearing opposed the Framework, and many of them asked the City to substitute the “Alternative” proposed by Neighbors4NRP, a group of residents from all parts of the city who helped draft and lobby for NRP-related legislation.

Several specified a period of 60 to 90 days, some even six months, for consideration of the issue by larger numbers of residents in their neighborhoods. The document being considered was issued July 24, and detractors pointed out that many organizations take hiatus in the late summer because many residents are on vacation, therefore word is hard to get out.

“Why the rush?” the Alternative’s supporters asked. They wrote that the City could have enacted many of the new features proposed in the Framework at any time, parallel to the NRP system.

Such as: The authors “give qualified support” to the ideas of a resident advisory board for Community Engagement, and establishing a city department to improve the relationship between city departments and residents, something that both sides say was not accomplished to the degree expected when NRP was started.

The Alternative calls for NRP to continue in its present form with a slightly restructured Policy Board. The Alternative asks for more specificity on funding sources, and makes recommendations on naming and purpose of the various pots of funds.

Northeast and North Minneapolis speakers presented about one-third of the testimony. Don Anderson, longtime chair of the Windom Park neighborhood NRP committee, talked about all the housing, commercial, and pedestrian level lighting improvements which would not have happened without NRP, “as Council Member Ostrow is well aware,” as he has served in the leadership of the neighborhood group for a time. He pointed to one local development, Rose Court and Stinson Marketplace at the site of the former greenhouse, which has provided $1.45 million in taxes to the city over 10 years.

Christa Laird, who identified herself as an immigrant new to the Windom Park neighborhood, said that through working on Central Avenue improvements and the Save Stinson Parkway movement, she has come to know her neighbors better. NRP activities are “a model of citizenship, the hope of America remaining great.”

Doron Clark, a co-chair of Windom Park Citizens in Action, said he grew up in a small town where he felt engaged in the community, has lived in St. Paul where he did not feel this way, and now is in Minneapolis where he again feels a part of his community. “The Framework takes this away,” please substitute the Alternative, he asked.

Liz Wielinski read a letter from Columbia Park Neighborhood Association stating that they find the Framework wanting, suggesting an unproved system based on a shaky funding stream, when the solution is to find another funding stream for the existing system. They called the Framework detrimental to both the Target Center and NRP, and asked for the council to amend the Framework in line with the Alternative, which provides for resolving transition issues not detailed in the Framework.

Tim Kremer of Bottineau neighborhood was last to speak. “NRP is a working system. It needs tweaks, and proper funding.” He talked about “difficulty getting things done in Northeast with only two council members” and stated that the one thing the residents have control over is their vote.

The Committee of the Whole also heard from Hennepin County Commissioner Gail Dorfman (who also currently chairs the NRP Policy Board). She discussed the possibility of the county continuing to fund NRP in some way after the legislation expires and the county begins to collect revenue that had been funding NRP. The tax structure that allowed NRP represents $120 million in foregone taxes in the first two decades.

When Council Member Scott Benson said “if each of the entities came to us with funding, you’d have my vote,” Dorfman replied “the City should state that you want” the participation of the other jurisdictions. (The Framework makes citizen engagement a city-only function.)

The Council was scheduled to make its final decision on the Framework September 12, but on Aug. 21, the Committee of the Whole postponed discussion on potential actions to their Sept. 11 meeting and directed staff to contact the inter-jurisdictional partners on the Neighborhood Revitalization Program Policy Board prior to that meeting. The jurisdictions would be asked to vote to allocate money in order to remain as members of the NRP Policy Board. The city would allocate $8 million and ask for annual contributions from Hennepin County $12 million, Park Board $4 million, School Board $4 million, and State of Minnesota $4 million.

State Senator Patricia Torres Ray told the Aug. 20 hearing that she has been in government for 18 years and has seen what happens when grassroots models transition into government control. “It is imperative to continue grassroots and the present form.” She said “we are having trouble convincing” outstate legislators to support Minneapolis, and “this is important to them.”

Torres Ray sponsored the pro-NRP legislation in the State Senate. Representative Karen Clark carried it in the House. “I came tonight intending to listen, and am moved by what I heard,” Clark said. “Rep. [Diane] Loeffler [of Northeast] was here earlier and she points out that one thing NRP generates is hope. You can’t buy it, you can’t legislate it.” If people don’t like the Framework, listen to that, she said. “Hope. There are some real hard things going on, crime, foreclosures, kids not making it in school. Take more time. I’m willing to work with this body. You care about your neighborhoods, each of you. Let’s do the right thing. We were negotiating on the very last night, and there are ways to go forward more deliberately. We may have a stronger margin” in the next legislature. “Stay with us on it.”

Written comments on the Framework can be submitted by email to anissa.hollingshead@ci.minneapolis.mn.us or mail to Anissa Hollingshead, Council Committee Clerk, 304 City Hall, 350 South 5th Street, Minneapolis, MN 55415until Sept. 11.

Editor’s Note: Margo Ashmore also works with NRP on the Minneapolis & Saint Paul Home Tour and edits the NRP LINK newsletter.