Revitalizing Peavey Plaza

I’m very excited that this week, I helped unveil the new design for a revitalized Peavey Plaza for the 21st century.

Whether you visit, live or work in Minneapolis, people have loved Peavey Plaza for decades. For many people, it’s been a getaway from the hustle and bustle of the street where they can reconnect with the sights and sounds of flowing water. I’ve loved it for the same reasons.

The revitalized Peavey Plaza retains the most beloved aspects of the current Peavey Plaza — the feeling of stepping down from the street, terraced seating, a central gathering and performance space, water — and dramatically improves upon it.

Above all, the new design makes Peavey Plaza safe again, and finally makes it accessible to everyone. In addition, it builds in sustainability to the plaza, both environmental and economic. It creates a vibrant new interaction with Nicollet Mall. And it adds many other great features, including a performance wall, a sound garden and bathrooms (finally, bathrooms!), not to mention others that most of us wouldn’t notice, like power and data, that are required for putting on high-quality public events.

There is a lot more information and terrific renderings of the new Peavey Plaza here: I hope you’ll check it out and spend some time looking at the dynamic and beautiful future of this Downtown icon.

The revitalization is necessary because the Peavey Plaza that we have loved has fallen well short of our needs for some time now.

  • It has been far less safe than it should be: its current design has allowed for antisocial and illegal behaviors that no one should have to tolerate.
  • It has not been physically accessible to everyone.
  • It does not meet contemporary standards for managing storm water: draining the fountain for events sends 120,000 gallons of water directly into the sanitary-sewer system each time.
  • Its concrete and pipes are severely eroded — and concrete, widespread in public plazas at the time Peavey was built, is for good reason no longer commonly used for that purpose.
  • It is not set up to accommodate performances: it was initially designed as only passive recreation space and it lacks too many of the features that are now essential, making it far too expensive to host performances there.

In short, we could not — and would not — build Peavey Plaza today the way it is now.

Simply fixing the many broken features of Peavey Plaza would still leave us with a space that is not safe, accessible and functional for everyone. And it would actually cost several million dollars more than revitalizing it with the plan that we’ve unveiled.

Revitalizing Peavey Plaza fixes the problems that preserving it in its current state can’t fix — and gives us a plaza that is safe and accessible for everyone, builds in sustainability and conservation, and meets all the needs of it that we anticipate for the next several decades.

Doing so will take time and cost money, but it won’t cost Minneapolis property-tax payers: we will pay for it with $2 million in State bonds and $6–8 million more in private donations that we have begun to raise.

Many people deserve our thanks for helping to move Peavey Plaza firmly into the 21st century. Tom Oslund, whose firm Oslund and Associates was chosen through a competitive public process to design the revitalized Peavey Plaza, is one of the most progressive and visionary landscape architects anywhere in the world — and he’s based in Minneapolis. The Minnesota Orchestra, which is revitalizing and adding onto their own signature building next door, has been a great partner. We’re grateful to the State of Minnesota for the capital support and to Minneapolis’ legislative delegation for helping secure the funds. And the Minneapolis City Council has been very supportive — especially Council Member Lisa Goodman, who represent and lives in Downtown and has worked hard to moved the project forward.

But above all, you — the public — deserve our thanks. Over the last six months, we have asked you for your input, criticism and ideas, and you have responded in droves: more than 500 of you attended two town hall meetings, answered an online survey and came to an event that Council Member Goodman sponsored.

Great cities are dynamic, not static: they change, and one of the reasons that Minneapolis is great is that we haven’t feared change, we’ve embraced it. In the past 40 years since Peavey first opened, we’ve learned a lot as a society about how to build great, safe and accessible public spaces, lessons that we hadn’t yet learned when Peavey first opened. Now we’re applying those lessons to re-create and revitalize one of Minneapolis’ signature public spaces for the 21st-century.

 

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Taxpayers’ burden lifted as pensions merger finally approved

I’m very pleased to report that a major burden has finally been lifted from Minneapolis taxpayers. Yesterday, the merger of two closed pension funds that have been responsible for skyrocketing costs to taxpayers — the Minneapolis Police Relief Association (MPRA) and the Minneapolis Fire Relief Association (MFRA) — was approved by the State’s Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA). This approval was the last step required for the merger to become complete on December 31.

The final merger of these closed pensions puts an end to a broken system that had been responsible for huge tax increases on Minneapolis taxpayers in recent years. With this merger, taxpayers will avoid another $20 million increase for 2012 and other large increases in the future. Instead, the merger, together with additional cuts in city spending, has enabled me to propose no property-tax increase for next year.

(And remember that the pension funds were the principal cause of the property-tax increase in 2011: had it not been for our legal obligations to the closed pensions under the broken system, we would have been able to lower property taxes this year as well.)

End of a long journey, and of a broken system

This merger is the end of a long and expensive journey for Minneapolis taxpayers. Shortly after I first became Mayor, I became aware of the ticking time bomb that was this broken system. The City doesn’t control these funds and past mayors and City Council members pursued reform for years, to no avail. Then in 2004, the State Auditor alerted the City that these two funds were routinely overcalculating their own benefits and overcharging taxpayers for them. After the funds refused to stop doing so, the City took them to court on taxpayers’ behalf. The court sided with taxpayers several times and ruled that the funds had overcharged Minneapolis taxpayers at least $52 million in the past decade.

The old, broken system served almost no one well: it maximized risk and volatility for both pensioners and taxpayers. (There is just one group for whom the broken system worked very well: the funds’ well-paid lobbyists and lawyers who made a lot of money trying to defend it.)

Yet while we were winning in court, the only permanent solution for ending the broken system was a merger of the funds with the State’s professionally-run PERA system. We accomplished the merger in July when Governor Dayton and the Legislature passed a bill that authorized it, following an agreement that we reached with the funds. To have gotten any merger approved through the Legislature is a historic achievement. To have done it through a Legislature that was hostile to Minneapolis on many other fronts borders on amazing. 

Compromise

That said, the merger that we won was a compromise: it was not everything that taxpayers deserved. It was a good deal for pensioners: police pensioners will get a 43% increase in their benefits in just four years, while fire pensioners will see a 50% increase. By any stretch of the imagination, this is a good deal for them, which is why over 90% of the members of those funds voted to approve the merger (even though incredibly, some in the funds tried to argue against it, saying that the increase was not big enough).

But even though the merger is a compromise, it’s still a better deal for taxpayers than the status quo. That’s because it’s like getting out from under the worst, most variable and highest-interest mortgage possible and refinancing it into a fixed, predictable, low-interest mortgage. And that prevents additional impacts to our taxpayers, next year and into the future.

Thank you

Many people deserve thanks for their years of hard work on taxpayers’ behalf to fix this broken system. While I can’t list them all, I want to mention City Council Members Betsy Hodges, Elizabeth Glidden, Barbara Johnson, and former Council Member Paul Ostrow; City Attorney Susan Segal, Deputy City Attorney Peter Ginder and their staff; Budget Director Heather Johnston, Finance Director Kevin Carpenter, former Finance Director Pat Born and their staff; Intergovernmental Relations Director Gene Ranieri and his staff, Communications Director Sara Dietrich and her staff. The entire City Council, many Minneapolis legislators and Governor Dayton were very supportive of our efforts. I’m also very grateful for the many years that Peter Wagenius of my staff has put into solving this problem.

Most of all, though, I want to thank Minneapolis taxpayers. You have lived with this burden for a long time and I am very pleased that it is finally over.

 

Creating a more equal economy

The Occupy Wall Street protests, which have raised important questions about economic equity, are spreading around the country, including Minneapolis tomorrow. Before it starts, I want to make a few points:

  • In Minneapolis we have strong opinions, but we also know how to respect each other. We respect the right of people to freely express themselves and we respect the right of people to go about their business without being interrupted.
  • We appreciate that local organizers are reaching out to the City. They have met with members of my staff and the Police Department, including Chief Tim Dolan, among other departments. This is a helpful connection that is helping us all understand how we can respect everyone’s rights.
  • I don’t know how it will go, but I fully understand why people are angry right now about economic equity. Our economy is especially unequal for people of color, who have slipped further in this recession, and young people, who are coming out of school with too much debt and not enough jobs.

I talked about this last month in my budget speech: while middle-class and working families are still struggling to recover (when they’re not still falling behind), those at the very top are concentrating their wealth in ways that are nothing short of alarming for our economy, our society and our democracy.

We aren’t going to solve all the issues of the global economy in Minneapolis, but we have to do what we can to close the gaps and level the playing field.

  • We need to keep investing in our Employment and Training network, which has trained thousands of hard-to-employ people and placed them in jobs.
  • We need to keep investing in the Minneapolis Promise, which has included placing 16,000 young people in quality summer jobs since 2004. About 80% these young people are people are color and many of them are now finishing college and getting into good jobs. The Minneapolis Promise, which also involves Career Centers in all our high schools and help on college tuition, is creating a fairer, more equitable economic future for Minneapolis, one young person at a time.
  • We need to know that this work, and all the work we have done to attack the foreclosure crisis and rebuild North Minneapolis, isn’t enough. That’s why in next year’s budget, I have added more money for a new effort called One Minneapolis, which will pull together all our efforts with others in the community to attack the gaps that still exist.

Since Minneapolis can’t fix these problems alone, more of us have to get more active in efforts in our state and country.

I strongly support Governor Dayton’s values as he makes the case that those at the very top need to pay a bit more to help us invest in better schools and jobs.

I strongly support President Obama’s values as he makes the case that those who have benefited the most need to invest more to deliver an American Jobs Act that will create tens of thousands of jobs in Minnesota in rebuilding schools, infrastructure and much more.

Most importantly, at a time when so many people are hurting, and we wonder about our economic future, we all have to get up off the sidelines and help bring more fairness back to our state and country. We may not all agree with what we hear, but the good news is that more and more people are unwilling to silently watch the inequity get worse.