“Continuous park frontage along both sides of the river, new residential neighborhoods, and job growth despite a much reduced industrial footprint” was the plan for river development, according to a Community Planning and Economic Development (CPED) document from August 2009, consistent with a 10-year-old Above the Falls development plan. About 85 people came out November 30 for the first step in a review and implementation study.
Designers from faraway places like China and Boston were there, too, taking notes on fine artist sketchbooks to help them compete for the rights to redesign the upper riverfront. The adult-size chairs at East Side Neighborhood Services filled up, so some sat on toddler chairs or stood in the back amongst the bright-colored charts showing employment concentrations and land uses along the river. Business owners and property owners were the largest attendee categories, followed by residents.
“The Above the Falls Plan is our plan,” said Scott Vreeland, a Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board commissioner. “We have been acquiring land from willing sellers, such as Scherer Brothers.”
The area involved is between the Camden Bridge and the 8th Avenue/Plymouth Avenue Bridge. If large parcels could be vacated, such as the city-owned Upper Harbor Terminal, housing or low-impact businesses with high job density could take their place.
Because so much time has intervened with seemingly little progress, and market conditions have changed, the Minneapolis City Council directed staff to check in with the public to see if the plan is still sound.
Opinions at the meeting varied.
“It’s a fine plan, the only thing wrong with it was it hasn’t been implemented,” said some.
“You’ve gotta be nuts thinking that area could be turned into housing, it’s set up for industry, it’s between the freeway and a truck route, who would want to live there?” said others. “If you’re going to move industry, where will you move it to? And what about the health of the river?”
Planners and issues
Planners Haila Maze (for Northeast) and Tom Leighton (for North) highlighted new factors to consider, and recent research that city staff have done. Maze said that in 2006 the city did the Industrial Land Use and Employment Policy Plan, finding out that a lot of heavy industrial land throughout the city has been converted to cleaner uses. It’s possible that there is now a shortage of places for such uses to relocate.
Can’t get enough news about Above the Falls?
Finance and Commerce quoted Mary Maguire: “My daughter is 30 now, and I remember when she was 4 she said to me, ‘Mommie, are you going to another meeting about the river?'” If you want more about the meeting, check out the Finance and Commerce article and Steve Berg’s article in MinnPost.
Maze said a study of the Upper Harbor Terminal indicates demand for it will go away, but that between three and a dozen businesses still use it. A representative from the Army Corps of Engineers said that he’d looked into terminal closings nationwide, and that none had closed when there was any regular traffic using them. Congress mandated one city’s lock and dam remain open after losing all its commercial business, because it served other purposes, too. “You can’t just stop,” he said, because there may be a federal obligation to remain open.
Among the factors noted in the presentation:
- There’s been very little building permit activity in the study area: Coloplast’s new headquarters, Riverview Townhomes, River Run, and Excel Energy’s new plant were the main builders, with some additional commercial and industrial.
- With one-third of the businesses occupying less than one acre, and two-thirds occupying less than three acres, government help would be needed with land assembly to get a “critical mass” for a major redevelopment.
- Employment generation comes mostly from office jobs, mostly in health care and social services. Office space demand is down with the recession, but it’s predicted there will be a need when the economy rebounds.
- Housing values are at about three-quarters of what they were when the downturn hit, and on the North Side, they’re down by about half. New residential building has mostly taken place downtown and in the Calhoun Isles area.
- A developers’ roundtable on housing, with 10 professionals concluded that market-driven housing will be built closer to downtown, with Northeast also a viable location. On the North Side, there’s concern about being a “pioneering development,” which wouldn’t make financial sense without subsidy.
- At a developers’ roundtable on industrial property, “some were bullish, and also wanted to see critical mass and investment in the public realm.” They thought the area well situated for traffic access.
- The developers’ roundtable indicated more support for locating corporate regional headquarters along the river than for general offices, inspired by Coloplast’s example.
Looking for jobs
Just because jobs are brought in doesn’t mean local people will be hired, said Mary Maguire, one of the residents most active in the original planning. About one-quarter of current jobs are held by locals, according to one estimate. Maze said she hopes to get better information through a business survey.
Maguire said “we’re often given the choice between jobs, parks, or housing. And we want them all.”
Al Swintek of Centerpoint Energy asked what the expected net gain in jobs would be. Answer: about 2,000. Another observer said “we don’t want to trade (higher paying) jobs for $8/hour jobs.”
To a couple of people who called it “swimming upstream” or “mind boggling” to think that the industrial area can be converted, Leighton said “The counterpoint is, it’s been done before, and we’re an ambitious city. There are macro trends that favor residential, macro pressure for rezonings. Sure it’s not easy to finance housing, we’re finding it not easy to finance new industrial, either.”
Randy Kouri, long time river activist and resident on the river, said Marshall Street has had two studies done that said “make it parklike, bury the lines, put out trash cans” to encourage everyone else to clean up their land. “Part of the problem has been that organizations like the Corps of Engineers, the DNR, they haven’t been asked to partner. They have money.”
Jeff Skrenes, Housing Director for Hawthorne Neighborhood, said he’d like to at least see an off-road bike connection along 26th Avenue north to Theodore Wirth, connecting with the river near the Riverview Townhomes. “It would positively impact every neighborhood on the Northside. I’d push for that especially if it was not disruptive to the businesses there now.”
The city’s plans call for a feasibility analysis to be completed by early 2011 and presented to the city council. The council could then ask for further study or analysis or for revisions to the plan.
Cordelia Pierson, Executive Director for the Minneapolis Riverfront Corporation, the recently-formed entity charged with assembling the money to carry out the ATF plan, told the group she’s excited about the turnout and the discussion, and reminded attendees about the December 7 “Designer Ask” session in which the designers will collect even more public comment. That meeting is at 7 p.m. December 7 at the Park Board headquarters at 2117 West River Road (just north of Broadway).