Downtown East Commons park ramps up activities in its second summer

Movie nights, hip-hop dance and outdoor concerts are among the park’s summer slate of activities.

Downtown East Commons park will transform from green space to play place this summer, stocked with attractions for visitors of all ages.

Come June, multicolored umbrellas will sprout to shade parkgoers playing lawn games, eating lunch or taking in a new public art installation. Throughout the summer, a packed events schedule will offer chances to learn hip-hop dance, attend a farmers market, practice yoga and hear a concert.

There are about two dozen events and attractions planned for the season, with more to come in the fall as football returns to U.S. Bank Stadium. Some events, such as spoken-word workshops and story times by local authors, are specific to the Commons. Others are tied to larger events, including the Northern Spark art festival and the X Games.

There’s also a new liquor ordinance, spearheaded by Council Member Jacob Frey, that will allow adults 21 and older to bring wine or beer to the park during certain events. The first will be a movie screening June 29 — one of four movie nights scheduled throughout the summer.

“Great parks are created not just through physical capital, but human interaction with the space,” said Frey, who represents the part of downtown where the Commons is located; he is also running for mayor. “I want a group of Somali high schoolers routinely playing … soccer games, and an old couple making it a routine to watch movies in the park on Wednesday nights.”

Though incomplete, the park is already attracting regulars. Lauren Ott, 26, lives downtown and visits every day. It’s a place where her dog, Theo, can run and make friends with other dogs and people.

“We got him in January, so we needed a place where he could run and be,” Ott said Thursday afternoon as she and Theo played in the park.

Around them, dozens of people had gathered to eat lunch at scattered tables, push their children in strollers and sunbathe on the vast expanse of grass.

The park’s nearly $1.4 million 2017 operating budget will pay for the summer events, many of which are happening in partnership with other organizations.

The Commons survives on outside support. It’s not part of the Minneapolis park system, but the Park Board owns the land. The City Council oversees the space, while the nonprofit conservancy Green Minneapolis manages park operations and solicits contributions from local corporations and foundations to pay for them.

The funding model has proved challenging. Last year, after plans for the park had already been scaled back, Green Minneapolis fell about $1 million short of nearly $15.3 million needed for the project in 2016. Developer Ryan Cos. provided a bridge loan so the park would be ready for the July opening of U.S. Bank Stadium.

Minneapolis has also provided support, including $500,000 of its Public Works budget this year. It’s unclear if that will continue.

Still, there’s a lot of optimism about the park’s future. In announcing the slate of summer events, Green Minneapolis Executive Director Beth Shogren emphasized that this is just the beginning.

“It is our goal to have programming year-round, and that’s what we’re working toward,” Shogren said. “But it might take us a few years to get there.”


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