City Says They’re Committed to Future of Open Streets Festivals

After three days of concern about the status of the popular annual events known as Open Streets, Minneapolis Public Works Director Margaret Anderson Kelliher made a public commitment Thursday that the city would continue to partner on those events in 2024 and provide the same support services like trash, traffic control, and police. What’s unclear is what the events will look like if Our Streets Minneapolis, the longtime organizer, is not involved. The city plans to put out a request for proposals from potential organizers, which could still include Our Streets.

On Monday, the city put out a statement claiming a “mutual agreement” with Our Streets to not extend the contract for 2024. The response from the organization’s executive director: “1000% not true.” Our Streets says they haven’t had a chance to discuss the 2024 season with the city, though they have made it clear it’s unsustainable to continue to do the event for free. The organization submitted a budget of $851,000 to do five events next year.

In response to Council Member Wonsley’s suggestion of “retaliation” against a group that has been critical of Mayor Frey and the Public Works Department on matters of policy, Anderson Kelliher said there was “no evidence” of that and that Our Streets “chose not to sign the contract for 2024. They informed our staff of that. We did not terminate the contract. They chose not to sign the zero dollar contract.”

Council Member Payne called it a simple question. It takes time, money and effort to make a program like this successful. He said it’s the city council’s responsibility to think how we want to prioritize the value these events bring to our community.

Payne and Wonsley compared the Open Streets’ zero dollar contracts to Warehouse District Live, an event put on by the Downtown Council to which Mayor Frey has allocated $600,000 in 2024.

I spoke about it with Our Streets Minneapolis executive director José Antonio Zayas Cabán on Sunday at Open Streets at Cedar Riverside.

Below are highlights from the back and forth at Thursday’s Minneapolis City Council Public Works and Infrastructure Committee (view tweets here):

Public Works Director Margaret Anderson Kelliher kicked off a presentation to the City Council with these comments:

Questions and concerns have come up about the future of open streets. Public works is not presenting a question of whether open streets should continue. We’re presenting an idea that will allow us to build on the transportation action plan. And additional events that support active transportation and mode shift goals. Open streets are wonderful events. They are going to continue. They are loved by many people. The city is committed to supporting open streets, just as it has in past years. The future of who is going to be the lead department is going to be discussed during the presentation.

Here’s the presentation.

In response to question from Council Member Payne, Public Works says the city contributes services in-kind to Open Streets events estimated at $34,000 per event.

Council Member Vetaw: “It’s just a relief to hear you say we’re not ending Open Streets.”

Public Works: There will be another procurement process for 2024 Open Streets season.

Public Works presentation has argued that Open Streets has become a street festival, not as relevant to the PW’s transportation and mode shift goals. So it’ll be handed transferred out of Public Works for a “multi-departmental planning effort” for future events.

Council Member Wonsley asking about public works website that describes Open Streets as more than a street festival, that allows people to experience streets as public spaces.

Wonsley: There’s lots of confusion about why all of a sudden Public Works is shifting their orientation to this program and why they’ll no longer be the lead department.

MAK says it wasn’t possible to ride your bike at Open Streets Glenwood this year. Too crowded until you got to Penn. “There was no rolling down that street at Glenwood for basically most of where the vendors were.”

Fact check: I spent a lot of time there and rode my bike the whole length many times. This is a dumb thing to lie about and make me fact check.

Wonsley: $600,000 to Downtown Improvement District (aka Downtown Council) for Warehouse District Live events. Why would we enter into a large scale event like Open Streets with a zero dollar bid? Why would a group do that for free?

Wonsley: It seems like this series aligns with TAP goals. Is this retaliation towards the contractor, Our Streets, that’s hosting it?

MAK: “That’s a very serious allegation. If that allegation needs to be followed through, I think the group should follow through with the city attorney’s office. There’s no evidence of retaliation in any shape or form.”

MAK: “The group chose not to sign the contract for 2024. They informed our staff of that. We did not terminate the contract. They chose not to sign the zero dollar contract.”

MAK, referring to their new event series under the “As You Go Mpls” banner: We want to focus on the multimillion dollar investments that are happening in the city, on our streets, that sometimes as you all know can be controversial. Get people out to experience what a modern bikeway, green infrastructure, vision zero infrastructure looks like.

Council Member Chughtai: Are those in-kind services for future Open Streets, regardless of the organizer, still going to be donated by the city?

MAK: We will as a city provide the same in-kind services. Trash, traffic control, MPD support.

Council Member Vetaw: I want to go on record saying I don’t believe there’s any retaliation happening here. These type of accusations get out in the media quickly and when it’s said on the dais it really gets taken out of context.

Payne: This is a simple question. It takes time, money and effort to make a program like this successful. What is that actual number? It’s our responsibility as a city council to think how we want to prioritize the value this brings to our community.

Payne: Warehouse District Live is a significant dollar investment. It takes more than that $34,000 per event of in-kind services to make an event successful. It takes time building relationships with community, vendors, performers.

Payne hopes the City Council can prioritize that they want this program to exist. It brings community building, civic engagement. He gets emails from new residents saying open streets was how they learned about their community and connected to neighbors.

Council Member Johnson wonders to the city attorney if it’s legally ok for MAK to be characterizing Our Streets positions in negotiations, as she describes them rejecting the zero dollar contract.

Johnson: Open Streets is a fun street festival. I’m glad they’re not going away, and there’s that commitment. I’m glad there’s an RFP process for 2024. That’s the right process for putting a dollar amount on it.

Johnson: “I personally think it’s inappropriate to cast aspersions around retaliation on this for something that we directed you to do, around coming back and revisiting this concept.” He’s referring to the new As You Go Mpls event series.