Donjek Tools: Advocating for Local Stimulus

School_Ren Federal and state efforts to spur creation of jobs and economic activity have dominated news in the last year. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (“ARRA”) constitutes stimulus funding to states and local governments. Funding resources are made available in some cases by formula, and in others, by competitive process.

Donjek is working with school districts and cities to:
  • Identify stimulus-related funding sources that address their needs. As part of this evaluation, we also identify long-term operating costs;
  • Partner with school district and city staff to apply for those funds to be awarded on a competitive basis, and to ensure that funds awarded on a formula basis are effectively distributed;
  • Advocate for appropriations for school districts and cities at the state and federal levels. 
As described in further detail below, execution of the ARRA provisions will be large scale and necessarily complicated; as program details emerge, this expectation has been confirmed. Large municipalities are effectively pursuing these resources, and Donjek is proposing to create additional capacity in stimulus funds procurement for municipalities large and small.

Stimulus funds are, generally, to be appropriated in two ways:
  • From federal agencies to states, either for state-level investments or state distribution to local governments;
  • Directly from federal agencies to local governments or other end users.
The first tranche of stimulus funding for Minnesota school districts took the form of stabilization funds. The State of Minnesota is exchanging these dollars ($500 million) with state funds, meaning that Minnesota districts will not receive new money through this program.

School districts do have an opportunity to access a range of additional stimulus programs, including those in the following general funding categories:
  • ARRA Title I;
  • ARRA Title II;
  • Individuals with Disabilities Act (“IDEA”);
  • McKinney-Vento Act;
  • Expansion of qualified bonding authorizations;
  • Rural Community Facilities program.
Cities may also have access to stimulus funds designated for various uses, and associated with different allocation processes and mandates:
  • Broadband Access;
  • Brownfield Remediation;
  • Energy Efficiency in Public- and Private-Sector Buildings;
  • Fire and Emergency Response Staffing;
  • Highway Infrastructure;
  • Housing Finance and Retrofitting;
  • Public Building Renovation;
  • Rural Business Development;
  • Rural Community Facilities Investments;
  • Solar Cities Program.
School districts and cities are financially pressed currently. Evaluating which stimulus sources are worth pursuing in a competitive process will reduce the potential waste of chasing programs as their resources and provisions are unveiled. 

Donjek Project: Little Rock’s MacArthur Park District Master Plan Wins Awards

Last fall, Donjek was hired to support a master plan process for MacArthur Park in downtown Little Rock, Arkansas, producing findings on feasible investment models for the City and its partners to reinvent the space. 

The process, Render_aerial_large  led by Conway+Schulte Architects of Minneapolis, has since received two awards for the MacArthur Park District Master Plan: A Citation of Urban Design from the Boston Society of Architects, and a 2009 Merit Award from the Minnesota Society of Landscape Architects. Congratulations to Conway+Schulte and their partners at the University of Arkansas Community Design Center and Oslund and Associates.

As part of the planning process, I examined multiple park revitalizations, searching for sustainable models for renovating, operating and maintaining quality urban open space. 

Pack Square Park in Asheville, North Carolina provides an example. Just over six acres, Pack Square Park is today the focus of a $20 million redevelopment effort involving the public, private and philanthropic sectors, at the helm of which is an effective conservancy.  Private capital will finance half of the renovation, and the new Pack Square Conservancy is raising an endowment of $2 million to bolster ongoing maintenance by the City of Asheville and Buncombe County.

Funding the capital and operating components of open space is a key area of public finance. Open space, in turn, is a key driver for effective places and a substantial influence on surrounding property values. If your community has an underutilized space or a park calling out for reinvention, contact us.