City Council votes to fund 70 percent of NRP phase two

City officials support cornerstone of neighborhood involvement — for now

During a Committee of the Whole meeting on Oct. 18., the City Council voted unanimously to keep the dwindling Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP) partially funded through its second 10-year phase, officially set to end in 2009.

Since the inception of the two-phase, 20-year program, city-recognized neighborhood associations have received millions of dollars, made possible through tax increment financing on Downtown redevelopment projects.

Neighborhoods’ NRP “action plans” have led to improvements in housing, parks and other infrastructure, as well as neighborhood programs, administrative staffing, and other key services, based on neighborhood priorities.

Right now, one neighborhood is still putting together a phase one plan — Cedar-Riverside, which approved its $3 million Full Action Plan at its Oct. 17 board meeting. Thirty-seven phase two plans have already been approved (and many groups have spent as much as half of their individual allocations), while 35 plans are yet to be accepted, according to city information. Those plans approved after 2007 won’t be see funds until after 2009.

Downward projections of funding

All told, NRP promised to deliver $404.3 million to neighborhoods across the city. But in 2001, state tax law changes drained the fund of millions of dollars, and nobody has been sure whether or not NRP will be able to live up to its original forecasts. NRP’s current total is $297.2 million, according to city information. Of that, $224 million was allocated for the first 10-year phase. That left $73 million for phase two; the council’s action in October should guarantee 70 percent of that total, $51 million, to be shared among the city’s 81 official neighborhood groups.

Projections of NRP’s status have been on a downward slide. After rumors that phase two funding could fall to as low as 50 percent of the original amount, the City Council has directed staff to secure funding for 70 percent of the amount already allocated to citywide organizations in their phase two action plans — a prospect that depends on the repayment of a loan to the city.

Recently, as the open question about phase two funding loomed, NRP officials cautioned organizations to curtail their NRP-dollar spending until the city settled on a set amount.

The long-term outlook

While the council’s action in October answers that open question, it is still only partial funding, and the program is set to end after the second phase, when the city will reassess the program and how — or if — it continues to fund neighborhood groups. The city is taking a closer look at NRP’s funding, focus and governance as part of its larger community-engagement process, which is currently being developed.

That’s not the answer some NRP boosters are looking for. Recently, a group called A Coalition of Neighbors 4 NRP has lobbied the city to fully fund the program’s second 10-year phase and continue the program after that. The group’s website, www.neighbors4nrp.com, includes a link to an online petition and letters of support from several neighborhood organizations, including the Longfellow Community Council (LCC).

At its Oct. 18 board meeting — just hours after the council’s action — the LCC board approved sending a letter to Mayor R.T. Rybak and City Council Members, asking them to fully fund NRP’s phase two, and to agree to fund subsequent phases at a minimum of $10 million per year.

Ward 9 Council Member Gary Schiff reported at the LCC meeting the council’s vote earlier in the day, and he expressed concern that, without NRP, neighborhoods would be left competing for community engagement grants from the city, which wouldn’t necessarily cover ongoing administrative expenses. Furthermore, the city, rather than the neighborhoods, would decide what the grants could be used for. “Why dismantle all the infrastructure that neighborhoods have built over the past decade?” asked Schiff. “I think it is in the city’s interest to continue to fund neighborhood organizations.”

Despite recent dire predictions, NRP is displaying growth for the first time since 2001, according to Jack Kryst, development finance director for the city. (The program generates income through a variety of activities, such as loan programs.) On Sept. 20, NRP Director Bob Miller sent a letter to neighborhood leaders outlining NRP’s plight. He urged them to show their support for NRP to City Council members. If NRP disappears, he warned, “you’ll never see anything like it again in your lifetime.” Some fear that, without sufficient funding, many of the existing neighborhood organizations will disappear.

Support for phase two funding

Although Miller has expressed frustration with council members in the past for stalling on the issue, the council and mayor rallied behind the program during the Oct. 18 committee meeting. Rybak said he wants to see tools for richer partnerships that will “open the door to participation.

“I support funding to neighborhood organizations,” he said. “The most important thing that neighborhood organizations can do is impact the billions of dollars that are spent at City Hall.”

Under the passed motion, a group of council members will work with Miller and a mayoral representative to “frame options” and “proposed actions” for consideration by the committee on Dec. 6.

Recommendations include a city position to support community-engagement activities, including what services the city expects community or neighborhood organizations to provide.

The city coordinator, along with the Development Finance Department, is to work with the Department of Community Planning and Economic Development, (CPED) and others to identify possible funding streams for NRP. Together, they’ll come up with recommendations, taking into consideration the possibility of the foresaid loan repayment, to go before the City Council for a decision on Dec. 21.

This sets the stage for the city to act “act as guarantor to the [funding] gap,” at least up to the 70 percent level, explained Ward 6 Council Member Robert Lilligren. The unanimous vote for the motion was a testimony that council members are “taking ownership” of the problem — a sign their sentiments “coalesced,” he remarked.

“We have a good community-engagement system,” said Lilligren. “We don’t want to take that away and start from scratch. This is a commitment as a City Council to provide implementation dollars to our neighborhoods.”

Ward 4 Council Member Barb Johnson said an eye-opener for her had been a process the Longfellow neighborhood had undergone, hosting a series of community meetings that wouldn’t have been possible without NRP.

Ward 3 Council Member Diane Hofstede also spoke in favor of the motion as one way to provide some security for neighborhood groups that have been floating in a “world of uncertainty,” as she put it.

While some council members, such as Schiff, would’ve liked for the motion language to articulate more specifically that it caters to neighborhood groups, at least one thing was made clear:

“Dollars are needed to keep the administrative structure for neighborhood groups, not just discretionary funds for programs. They need basement-level, keep-the-lights-on money so staff can do their jobs,” he said.
For much more information about the past, present and future of NRP, visit www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/communications/communityengagement.asp and click on “NRP post-2009”.

— Sarah Phemister contributed to this article.

last revised: October 23, 2007