Through an innovative partnership with the Minneapolis Parks Board, the Boys and Girls Club has helped raise more than $1.5 million in public and private funds for a new multi-use recreational center. Under its agreement with the Parks Board, the Club will manage the facility and work with the Minneapolis Parks Department to offer new and expanded programs. The partnership is one of several in which the Parks Department is collaborating with community organizations and civic groups to deliver park and recreation services.
Three years ago, representatives of the Minneapolis Parks Department approached community groups in South Minneapolis about infrastructure improvements in Phelps Park. The Department wanted to know how to spend $300,000 for repairs in the park, which occupies a city block in a low to medium-income neighborhood. Community residents had other ideas. They said they wanted an indoor gym and playspace to accommodate use by multiple age groups in the neighborhood.
The Parks Department responded that it was unable to secure additional capital funds and could not commit to the project without identifying in advance who would manage and maintain the facility. The Boys & Girls Club, which serves about 5,000 children and youth through three clubs in the city, expressed strong interest in the project. Jim Crotty, the Club’s executive director, had worked closely on another park collaboration project with Harvey Feldman, the Department’s assistant superintendent, and saw the opportunity to build upon earlier successes to build the facility.
Neighborhood leaders canvassed the community and consulted with representatives of the city’s Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP), which disburses city funds through neighborhood advisory councils for community-specified projects and initiatives. They found strong support for the project.
With the Parks Department’s commitment of $300,000, Feldman and Crotty worked to raise additional funds for the facility’s construction. They went first to the NRP’s neighborhood advisory councils in nearby communities. Councils representing three neighborhoods near Phelps Park committed a total of $950,000, citing the need for recreational services for area youth. The Club then secured a $300,000 grant from the McKnight Foundation, $200,000 from the Bush Foundation and $25,000 from the Minneapolis Foundation. This was the first time that local foundations had made grants in support of projects supported by the NRP.
The Boys and Girls Club recently took fundraising one step further. An individual donor, impressed with the scope of and growing support for the project, has pledged $1 million for an endowment. The Club is negotiating with a second donor to augment the endowment and support additional capital repairs.
Roles and Responsibilities
The Department of Parks and Recreation is the owner of the building and oversaw its reconstruction, delivering to the Club, its manager, a finished structure. The Parks Department, which provides routine cleaning services for the building, contributed a full-time director for a Parks Center. The Club signed a ten-year lease at one dollar per year. They make any necessary repairs and capital improvements, provide security, collect rent from all tenants, and pay all utilities and insurance bills. From their annual budget of $360,000 per year, the Club also provides directors of education, aquatics, social development, and physical education, aa well as a receptionist and other program supervisors. User fees help to offset many of these costs. The Parks Department has use of the building during the morning and early afternoon for its programs, while the Club uses the building in the later afternoon and evening. This arrangement results in usage throughout the day and offers opportunities for program synergies as well.
The Parks Department is now letting bids and expects construction of the 7,000 square foot facility to begin in about a month. The facility is expected to be fully operational in the fall. The Boys & Girls Club intends to offer programs for children and youth in career education, leadership, gang prevention and employment training.
Park and Club officials say the partnership’s success has taught them important lessons about the proper role and limits of government. “We can’t be all things to all people,” said David Fisher, superintendent of the Minneapolis Parks District. “There are some things we do well, and some things that nonprofits just can do a lot better.” Fisher added that the collaboration confirmed the need for the public sector to “share power” under certain conditions.
Fisher also emphasized the important role that individual personalities play in such partnerships, citing Feldman and Crotty’s solid working relationship as well as their commitment to the project. “You’ve got to be able to look across the table and trust your partner,” said Crotty. “You’ve got to leave your ego at the door.”
David Fisher, Superintendent of Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Department, 612-661-4800