It was a packed, happy house when the new University president, Eric Kaler, and his wife Karen, hosted a holiday celebration at Eastcliff, the president’s house, for The Alliance: a University District Partnership, that advertises itself as “smarter together” and is now a new non-profit rather than an uneasy coalition of not-always-happy-with-each-other groups and institutions.
In 2006, with anxiety building over the effects of the 50,000 seat TCF Stadium on the nearby neighborhoods and businesses, State Senator Larry Pogemiller convinced the legislature to authorize mitigation for the possible adverse effects by formation of the University District Alliance and providing initial funding. Four neighborhood associations surrounding the campus—Marcy-Holmes, SE Como, Prospect Park East River Road, and Cedar-Riverside; local business associations; the University; and the City of Minneapolis were named in the legislation. Later Augsburg College and two major university student associations were invited to join the alliance.
Parking, traffic, crime and post-game riots as well as the fear that the University area might suffer the fate of other cities’ university neighborhoods that became slums were high on the list of Alliance concerns. Attendees at the celebration were reminded of this earlier fear when President Kaler, a U of MN graduate student, named his 1980s off-campus living quarters, one overlooking a busy gas station, another on a heavily travelled street with a dangerous intersection.
Four years of sometimes tough conversations and countless committee meetings have changed the atmosphere. Grass roots activists found they could work with “the elephants in the room,” meaning the fiercely independent university and the city.
At the celebration Kathleen O’Brien, a university vice-president and Alliance co-chair, delivered accolades to the new SE Strategic Compliance Team, an effort pushed by the neighborhoods to get City and University officials combining forces to help reduce “unruly assembly” and rental housing violations, and prevent crime. In Marcy-Holmes, SE Como and Prospect Park the unruly assembly violations went from 278 in 2009 down to 12 in 201l. Crime is down, rental license revocations for bad landlords increased; and the neighborhoods have had fewer foreclosures than the city average.
Mike Christenson, Alliance steering committee member and director of CPED, Minneapolis’ Community Planning & Economic Development agency, attributed the Alliance’s success to neighborhood and institutional leaders working well together in a summing-up letter to Dick Popelle, steering committee co-chair. He commended the University for providing expert staff support and said that the compliance team “has been innovative in the mix of regulation, enforcement and incentives that have improved neighborhood conditions.” He noted that “three of the five Alliance neighborhoods grade at the highest levels of residential construction…(and) When it comes to the percentage of properties rated fair or poor by the City Assessor, all five neighborhoods rank below City averages.” In short, they are above average and the 2010 Census showed the area, along with downtown, had the city’s greatest population growth.
The 2012 Alliance board announced at the celebration has Ted Tucker, of Marcy-Holmes as president and Katie Fournier of SE Como as secretary, with two University officials, Kathleen O’Brien and Brian Swanson serving as vice-president and treasurer. Council members Cam Gordon (Ward 2) and Diane Hofstede (Ward 3) along with two members from each neighborhood and representatives from all member organizations fill out the board. The University of Minnesota Foundation is accepting contributions for the Alliance and a new Friends of the Alliance is contemplated to allow individuals outside the University area to participate.
Design guidelines have been written to aid developers contemplating construction in the area. The goal is to make it a preferred place for people of all ages to live, work, learn, do business and visit. Major new residential projects are underway or in the design stage along the SE riverfront, in Marcy-Holmes, along the Central Corridor in the Stadium Village business area. The Riverside Plaza towers in Cedar-Riverside are undergoing a $65 million rehab.
But all is not sweetness and light, with two neighborhoods vying for a new SE library when it comes up for renovation by Hennepin County in a year or two. Stay tuned. For more information, visit the Alliance website.