How many organizations does one river need? The current board of the Minneapolis Riverfront Partnership (MRP) is considering shutting down, while a reorganization task force authorized by that same board is looking at how the non-profit organization might re-emerge in a uniquely useful role.
There will be a meeting, public welcome, at 4:30 to 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 12 at Mississippi Watershed Management Organization, 2522 Marshall St. NE, to decide.
Mary Jamin Maguire, a former MRP board member active on MRP committees, is on the reorganization task force. “The upper river has been neglected for over 100 years,” she said. “There has been renewed focus in the last few years and MRP could be a catalyst to keep the Upper River moving forward. There is no other vehicle equipped to do what MRP was envisioned to do. “
In the mid 2000s, a blue ribbon task force recommended that to jumpstart thoughtful redevelopment of the upper Mississippi River, similar to what happened near St. Anthony Falls, there needed to be an organization that could “bring businesses to the table, too,” said John Crippen, current MRP board chair, who had staffed the blue ribbon task force as part of his work for the Minnesota Historical Society. They looked at models such as the St. Anthony Falls Heritage Board and the St. Paul Riverfront Corporation, and some from other cities.
“From what I understand,” Crippen said, “Minneapolis elected officials started a push, and since governments can’t just join non-profits,” they got the legislature to enact a statute in 2008 allowing them to put together a group that could seat elected officials with other community and business members. The group’s meetings are subject to open meeting laws. Its formal name is Minneapolis Riverfront Corporation, though the name was re-branded to emphasize partnership as its value.
It was expected that “it would be a rainmaker [raise funds] and do land acquisition,” Crippen said. But the tools used in earlier model successes, the tax increment financing and bonding of the 1980s and 1990s, went away. Other creative fundraising solutions “didn’t happen through us. It was a terrible time, the start of the great recession. Big projects were never in our capacity. We did small stuff on the side,” Crippen said.
For example, in 2013, the Minneapolis Riverfront Partnership launched the data-driven Riverfront Vitality Project, the first comprehensive look at the Mississippi Riverfront in Minneapolis.
With Cordelia Pierson as their first executive director, MRP sponsored and promoted studies and conversations and put on an annual get-together that each year highlighted a different public spot along the river, for example, Ole Olson park, or the Scherer Brothers Hall’s Island land when it was first acquired.
Kathleen Boe, who succeeded Pierson as executive director, retired in mid-November 2017.
Other powers gained strength
At the time the Minneapolis Riverfront Corporation formed, “the park board and the city were not getting along very well,” Crippen said. “That problem seems to have been solved.” The city and park board are collaborating on the Upper Harbor Terminal redevelopment.
An entity emerged, the Minneapolis Parks Foundation, “that has been immensely successful,” doing the Water Works project and raising funds to execute the RiverFirst plan. The original RiverFirst vision was funded by the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board. Parks Foundation donors and volunteers are a well-connected group of businesses and individuals.
The organization Friends of the Mississippi River, formed in 1993, while supporting a much longer stretch of the Mississippi, maintains its role of studying, advocating for legislation and cleaning up riverfront areas between Minneapolis downtown and the city limits. Its stewards pull buckthorn and other invasive species, and plant native plants to reclaim problem areas.
The Above the Falls Community Advisory Committee (AFCAC), of which Maguire and other members of the reorganization task force are members, is the longest running committee of its kind. AFCAC is a city committee comprised of representatives from participating entities such as neighborhood groups. “MRP was envisioned as a partner to AFCAC working to implement the Above the Falls (ATF) Master Plan,” Maguire said. She added that AFCAC has good relationships with the Parks Foundation and FMR.
Maguire said a mistake was made in having MRP serve the entire length of the river within Minneapolis, and that there were missed opportunities when the group declined to taking positions on proposals that could help or hurt the ATF Master Plan.
Coincident with the MRP board losing its executive and contemplating shutdown, Minneapolis elections occurred, and most of the public officials who happened to be on the MRP board did not run or were not re-elected. According to the website, Minneapolisriverfront.org, there are 11 public agency appointments, 11 appointments made by the board itself and four riverfront stakeholders and two stakeholder alternates.
If the Minneapolis Riverfront Partnership shuts down, state non-profit law requires it to convey assets to another 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization with similar mission. Crippen said the assets consist of the intellectual property of the Mississippi Minute Film Festival and a few thousand dollars. Maguire added that there is a mailing list and some computers.
A new, unrelated organization could emerge if a need is perceived and there are people to run it.
If not shut down at the December 12 meeting, MRP could take a different form, after a six-month study by the reorganization task force.
“We need longer and deeper conversations with more people,” Maguire said. “There’s no real down side to taking six months. The phone’s been cancelled and the website is on hold. If it’s decided to close, there’s no additional work to be done then to shut down, Kathleen prepared it all.”
Anyone wanting to comment to or help the reorganization task force may email Maguire at email@example.com
The board has also retained an attorney knowledgeable in non-profit matters.