By Anne Holzman
Since a 2014 city study found that Falcon Heights Community Park needs repairs and updates, the municipality has been trying to decide how to pay for those improvements.
Early last year, council member Mark Miazga decided to try a fresh approach: Seek state bonding money. He and city manager Sack Thongvanh put together a proposal to Department of Management and Budget that they hope will show up in the coming legislative session’s major bonding bill. They have asked for $1 million toward repairs and updates in the park and would be able to finance about another $1 million if the state provides matching dollars.
The Minnesota Legislature typically considers the state budget in odd-numbered years and capital bonding projects in even years, so they’ll take up bonding in 2020.
Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, whose district includes Falcon Heights, said in a recent interview that competition for state bonding funds is keen. While she doesn’t want to discourage anyone’s efforts, Hausman said the state’s Department of Management and Budget receives about $5 billion in bond requests in every two-year cycle, and typically the Legislature approves less than a fifth of those requests.
Desired repairs at Community Park include improvements bringing the main park building up to code so it is handicapped accessible, replacing cracked concrete, and improving the park’s parking lot, tennis and basketball courts and other paved areas. Miazga said there has been interest in expanding the community garden space, but apart from that, the configuration of the park would remain the same.
The 2014 report also examined other city parks, but improvements to those are not included in the bonding request.
Hausman, who has served on the Legislature’s bonding committee since 2005, said she has learned that “the more local a project is, the harder it is.” This is partly because of the need to get the backing of more than just the local representatives, and partly because if one local project succeeds, there will be a blizzard of similar requests in the following cycles.
The main consideration for any given bonding request, Hausman said, is how it stacks up against the others in investment and economic return. By the time a committee finishes assembling a bonding bill, she said, “I should be able to tell you what the economic impact is of every line in that bill,” she said.
Miazga said this was his first time through the funding process, and so the city solicited help from the University of Minnesota, the entity that owns the land and leases it to Falcon Heights for a dollar a year. “They wrote a letter on our behalf saying they would support it,” Miazga said in an interview.
He said that despite all its open space, Falcon Heights has a low ratio of park land available for community use, because much of the visible green space is actually university experimental fields.
He said another argument for state dollars is that Community Park is shared by surrounding communities. “We do a lot of parks and rec programming with Roseville,” Miazga said. “It really is used by a lot of Ramsey County.”
Miazga knows that state bonding is “a competitive process” that sometimes takes several tries or just never gets into a bill. But he’s hoping for success based on Community Park’s heavy use, including for citywide environmental events, sports lessons and tournaments. “It’s important that we have a central place for people to meet,” Miazga said.
State officials began touring requested bonding sites in November and will continue visits in December. The Legislature reconvenes on Feb. 11, 2020.
Anne Holzman, a former St. Anthony Park resident, is a regular freelance contributor to the Bugle