In August, the City of Minneapolis Public Works Department ended the partnership with Our Streets Minneapolis hosting Open Streets Minneapolis, a beloved community event and hallmark of summer for many Minneapolis residents. There was no advance discussion of ending the partnership or the future of the event series.
Mayor Jacob Frey and Public Works Director Margaret Anderson Kelliher's actions have threatened the success of future Open Streets Minneapolis events. While continuing to use the talking point that Open Streets “isn’t going away,” the Mayor and Public Works Director Kelliher told the Minneapolis City Council that the Open Streets program doesn’t need the $500,000 in funding initially proposed by the Ward 2 and Ward 5 offices and that the Public Works Department can take on Our Streets Minneapolis’ Open Streets Minneapolis program themselves.
On top of advocating to jeopardize funding for the program on the eve of the budget amendment proposal hearings—and a pending nomination for the City of Minneapolis’ City Operations Officer position that would give Director Kelliher power over city departments’ funds—the Department of Public Works has made indications they would not use any additional funding approved by the Minneapolis City Council during the amendment process, convincing Councilmembers to lower the initial $500,000 proposal to $250,000. Today, the Minneapolis City Council passed a budget amendment to the lower amount of $250,000, deemed insufficient by Our Streets Minneapolis.
Frey, Kelliher, and the City of Minneapolis Public Works Department have no experience coordinating Open Streets Minneapolis events. While the department provides available dates for the events to take place, the City of Minneapolis has solely provided in-kind support for the organization’s Open Streets Minneapolis events in years past, and Public Works has not played a role in organizing the program.
It’s worth comparing the program to Warehouse District Live, a similar street festival that closes the street to car traffic, for which Jacob Frey allocated $600,000 without an RFP process. It’s also worth noting that much of the advocacy work of Our Street Minneapolis for safer, universally designed streets is directed at the Minneapolis Public Works department, leading to the perception and accusations of retaliation in City Council meetings and by community members.
Our Streets Minneapolis founded Open Streets Minneapolis in 2011 and has successfully run the program since. Our Streets Minneapolis relied on twelve years experience of in successfully coordinating and running the program to create a five, ten, and even thirteen-event budget for 2024 and submitted it to the Mayor, Kelliher, city staff, and City Council on August 4, 2023, and followed up on August 23, 2023. Their budget proposal relies on actual figures from a total of 70-plus events coordinated by Our Streets Minneapolis. Additionally, it delineates the costs to ensure the events are successful in the near term and financially sustainable in the future. Mayor Frey and Director Kelliher decided not to include these amounts in their 2024 budget proposals.
On the misleading recommendation of the Department of Public Works, the City of Minneapolis City Council allotted $250,000 in a unanimously approved budget amendment for a five-event series Public Works RFP for 2024.
In the past, the City of Minneapolis Public Works Department indicated that every event costs the city $34,700 from in-kind contributions per event. In the Our Streets Minneapolis budget proposal, the organizer estimated that, in addition to the in-kind costs from the City, the costs for payroll, equipment rental, insurance, communications, printing and mailing, supplies, and software professional fees for artists, performers, community partners, and contractors to coordinate and produce five Open Streets Events would come to $851,700. This means that the budget amendment falls $600,000 short of what is needed to make a five-event series next year a reality, according to the organizer.
The Open Streets Minneapolis program has never been profitable. In previous years, Our Streets Minneapolis has secured foundation support, or sponsorships that fall well short of the cost to program a four to seven-event series, making it more unsustainable each year. Between registration fees and sponsorships, the organization has historically secured $75,000-$100,000 annually. This annual average would cover approximately 12% of the total cost of a 2024 five-event series.
However, these funding sources are unpredictable. Sponsors do not necessarily renew, and registration can vary from year to year. In addition, the primary goal of the budget proposal is to maintain the long-term sustainability of the Open Streets Minneapolis program and eliminate the financial barrier to registering for the event, making it more easily accessible to the diverse vendors, performers, and artists across underserved communities and ensuring the events can continue to be programmed in low income, primarily BIPOC communities.
“We are uncertain what comes next and disappointed that, after years of working with the Department, Minneapolis Public Works doesn’t understand the amount of staff time and resources required to make Open Streets Minneapolis a success,” says José Antonio Zayas Cabán, executive director of Our Streets Minneapolis. “We have provided the appropriate parties with sufficient information to ensure the long-term success of the program. We founded this event and elevated it to the level of success it has each year. After years of fostering community engagement and relationships, we remain steadfast in the belief there is no Open Streets without Our Streets.”