Eagan plans to buy art park land in limbo
Caponi Art Park to continue as it has for decades
The Caponi Art Park property will remain under the same ownership for the time being.
Plans for the city of Eagan to purchase are in limbo after the Department of Natural Resources denied its request for $400,000 in grant funding.
This means Eagan and Dakota County’s pledge of between $300,000 and $400,000, which was contingent upon the grant, is on hold.
“We have to get back to square one and see what our options are,” said Al Singer, Dakota County conservation manager. “This doesn’t mean the money is going away — things have changed.”
Local officials and directors of the Caponi Art Park and Learning Center had hoped to obtain $1 million in public grants for the city to purchase the private portion of the park on Diffley Road. That portion is currently owned by a nonprofit, which operates the art collection and open green space.
Although the city would have owned the property, under its initial plans, the Caponi Art Board would have continued to operate the park and art programs.
Supporters of Caponi Art Park have worried for years about the future of the park since Anthony Caponi, a retired Macalester College professor, is age 90 and still an active artist and a director of the park.
In 2005, the city purchased 10 acres of the 60-acre property.
Dakota County bought another 20 acres and turned it over to the city.
Caponi Art Park took out a mortgage to purchase the remaining property, which contains the bulk of its sculptures, amphitheater, and the Caponi family home and studio.
The nonprofit was given some flexibility since the mortgage is in the Caponi family name.
Since then, the nonprofit has expanded its programming to meet the demands of growing attendance.
The number of visitors at the park went from 4,200 in 2007 to 17,000 last year.
Despite this growth, park directors have said the organization has struggled to make its mortgage payments.
City and county officials began exploring the possibility of public ownership last year, after being approached by Caponi Board members for help.
Caponi, the park’s founder, said he views the grant denial as a minor step back.
“We are a little different, and as innovators we expect to have a hard time because we don’t fit into one category,” he said. “This requires patience.”
Caponi added that the park will continue to offer theater and arts programming as it has for decades.
“We are trying to secure the park for the future, but if nothing happens, it will still be there,” he said.
Despite the lack of grant funding, city and county officials said they will continue to explore ways to preserve Caponi Art Park for the future.
“The city is committed to the art park,” said Juli Seydell Johnson, director of Eagan Parks and Recreation. “We would like to secure it for the future but how that will happen, no one knows.”
Singer echoed Seydell Johnson’s sentiments.