A question that has loomed over Caponi Art Park for decades was finally resolved on Tuesday night, when the Eagan City Council approved a joint purchase agreement that will preserve the entirety of the park and its legacy for years to come.
The council voted unanimously to purchase 27.12 acres of the 57-acre park for $800,000—a cost that will be split equally by Dakota County and the city. Eagan already owns the remaining acreage, which was purchased in 2005.
Tuesday's decision means that park proponents and 91-year-old park founder Tony Caponi can rest easy. The final closing date for the purchase must occur on or before Dec. 31, 2014. Once the deal is done, the county will place a conservation easement across the entire park—preventing any future development on the site.
Although the city will own the land, the Caponi Art Park's nonprofit organization will continue to manage and operate the park, and conduct the lion's share of park maintenance, Eagan Parks and Recreation Director Juli Seydell Johnson said.
Next Step: Fundraising
The council's decision frees park proponents to begin a three-pronged fundraising campaign, according to Caponi Art Park Board President Craig Harris.
Foremost among the nonprofit's goals is raising $450,000 to put toward the purchase of the 27.12-acre parcel, which is owned by the Caponi family. The property is valued at $1.4 million, although the city and county have only pledged $800,000 together.
Harris hopes the nonprofit can raise the money to help make up part of the difference before the 2014 deadline. The nonprofit also plans to raise funds to further develop its programming and make capital improvements to the site.
Raising $450,000 may seem daunting, but Harris said the council's decision works in favor of the art park's efforts. In the past, the park's fundraising efforts had been partly stymied by potential donors worried about the future of the parkland.
With the preservation of the park a done deal, those fears shouldn't be an impediment any more, according to Harris.
"This is an important step in securing the future of Caponi Art Park for the continued benefit of the community,” Harris wrote in a press release distributed following the council meeting on Tuesday. "The Caponis have been the stewards of the park for 60 years; creating, developing and operating this tremendous community asset as well as forgoing the financial gains that could have been theirs had they entertained other options."
"Business As Usual"
The park attracts as many as 18,000 visitors annually with its mix of natural beauty and arts programming. That programming will continue under the auspices of the nonprofit organization.
“As far as the public is concerned, things will be business as usual, and visitors should not notice any change,” Eagan Mayor Mike Maguire wrote in the press release. “What this deal does is to conserve this beautiful land for future generations."
“This is a first class example of how public entities, non-profit organizations and private individuals came together to protect open space for use by all," Eagan City Administrator Tom Hedges said.