When the summer of 2023 hits, Clinton Field Park in Whittier will have two brand-new futsal courts, a $400,00 project, funded by the park dedication fee. Although designed around futsal, the smooth and hard-surfaced courts will also be suitable for roller skating, bicycle polo, and other community events.
“I view futsal as accessible soccer,” said Caleb Crossley, the driving adult force behind the public futsal courts set to be installed at the Whittier park. Crossley started advocating for these courts in 2017.
Futsal is accessible to Minneapolis youth because the soccer opportunities are expensive.
“Youth soccer has turned into an industry,” Crossley said. “It’s out of the question if you don’t have money.” Most of the soccer domes are expensive to rent out, and outside of the city, requiring reliable transportation.
“There are some scholarships” but “you need to flip that,” Crossley said. “The new baseline, instead of it being $1500 to play and offering some scholarships, have the baseline be free.” And to play futsal? It’s free.
Currently, youth and young adults play futsal at the Whittier Recreation Center, organized by the Futsal Society. Crossley is the founder of Futsal Society, which provides “an alternative to club soccer for kids and families who have all the passion for the sport but can’t pay to play.”
To keep futsal free, access to public courts is a necessity. Turns out, futsal-friendly areas are not easy to find in the Minneapolis parks system. Crossley, a Stevens Square resident, sees accessible futsal courts as directly tied to youth engagement and equity.
So how does a Minneapolis resident get futsal courts, or any other kind of infrastructure, installed in a neighborhood park? To start, years of work and learning about the nuances of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board’s process.
There are two major funding streams for park improvements. One is the Park Board’s existing budget for park upgrades and maintenance. The other stream is activating park dedication fees.
Any housing development within Minneapolis, sans low income housing, is assessed a park dedication fee. The funds are used by the Park Board to “enhance the park system for new residents or employees moving into the city.” The Park Board has a Park Dedication Map that pinpoints where park dedication fees were collected, whether the money has been spent, and how the money was allocated.
Neighborhoods that have seen a lot of development, including Whittier, Lowry Hill East and Elliot Park, have amassed park dedication fees that reach millions of dollars.
This money can only be used to improve Minneapolis parks in the neighborhood where the development happened. The improvements have to be new construction on park property.
For example, $400,000 in park dedication fees largely funded the Elliot Skate Park in Elliot Park that opened in the summer of 2021.
The process of getting the skate park built ultimately helped Crossley get the futsal courts approved. After years of dead ends and crumbled plans with various partnerships, Crossley learned about the park dedications fee through Paul Forsine, the co-founder and president of City of Skate.
Who decides how and where the park dedication fees should be spent? It comes down to the Minneapolis Park Board. Neighborhood associations, like Whittier Alliance, work with the Park Board by collecting ideas from the community. It’s an informal process, as far as who can propose ideas for how to use the park dedication fees.
In 2020, the Park Board approved a master plan for the parks over the next few decades. It helps if the proposed project fits within the Park Board’s long-term vision.
In 2019, Crossley and the Futsal Society advocated for futsal courts to be put into the Southwest Service Area Master Plan [PDF], which was approved in 2020. The master plan will guide improvements, management, and operations of public parks for the next 20-30 years. In 2021, the Whittier Alliance supported the plan for $400,000 in park dedication fees to be put into the Capital Improvement Program for the futsal courts. The CIP is a prioritized list of infrastructure improvements that guides long-term investment and rehabilitation throughout the park system. In other words, the program funds the plan.
As the Minneapolis futsal community patiently waits for July 2023 to roll around, the Futsal Society and Whittier Rec Center have many opportunities to play. At the rec center, a high school league plays Mondays and Fridays and Thursdays are a pick-up game night. All the games are organized by the Futsal Society.