Big roads, big clinics, entertainment districts and Class A office towers

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What’s happening around the Twin Cities and Minnesota … Here is the Streets.MN Rundown!

  • Bipartisan support for I-94 Expansion between Maple Grove & St. Cloud [Star Tribune]

You know what we need? More lanes on I-94 to St. Cloud.

“Republican U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, backed by a bipartisan cohort of about three dozen lawmakers, local elected officials and business folks, came to the Minnesota Capitol to offer support for about $400 million worth of improvements to I-94 and Minnesota Highway 10.” – Star Tribune

This is a political proposal and MnDOT has expressed interest against such an expansion. A MnDOT spokesperson recently said that the project is not a top priority because it “doesn’t meet all of the metrics at this time.” If I were the MnDOT representative, I would have removed “at this time” from the statement. Why? Because it’s not needed and spending $100 million to (slightly) improve peak hour long-distance commutes seems like a bad, misguided and expensive idea. Resources could certainly be dedicated in other directions.

I found myself driving from Minneapolis to St. Cloud at least half a dozen times in the past year. Never has it taken more than 1 hour and 20 minutes to go the approximately 65 miles. What good would one extra lane do? Apparently this proposal will create jobs. We’ll see about that. At best, it’ll speed up summertime Lake Cabin commutes up north.

As it turns out, the Mayo Clinic doesn’t want money to actually expand its operations. The hospital wants it to provide other local community investments. Here is what the spending will go towards [Link]:

$91M: Transportation

$159M: Transit

$101M: Public utilities

$47M: Public spaces

$98M: Parcel development

$70M: Parking structures

$19M: Other uses

$70 million for parking structures? $98 million for parcel development (of which, is apparently going towards “Mayo and Rochester officials want to develop the high-end hotels, restaurants and other amenities in the city that would enable the Mayo Clinic to attract more patients and their loved ones.”) These efforts won’t be going towards better medical care, but a better experience for those lucky enough to visit Rochester as a “destination medical center”.

I’m not sure of what the transportation, transit, utilities or “other uses” will be. My guess is that it won’t necessarily be dedicated for the greater benefit of Rochester, but the short-term benefit of the clinic. It’s not like this $500 plus million will be going to cancer research, or affordable healthcare, or preventative care. It’ll be going towards adding nice things to the community to help attract wealthy outsiders who might be visiting those who are ill and temporarily staying at the hospital.

It begs the question,what would you do with $500 million? If you said, “Give it to one of the world’s most profitable hospitals”, then you’re on the same page as our Governor here in Minnesota. Here’s what the Pioneer Press reported:

“The Mayo Clinic is seeking more than $500 million in state support for economic development projects in the medical center’s hometown of Rochester — a deal that clinic officials say would guarantee the world-famous clinic stays and grows in Minnesota. … … Gov. Mark Dayton, who recently underwent back surgery at Mayo, said during the announcement that he supports the plan, adding that bond support might cost the state about $30 million per year.” Pioneer Press [Jan. 30, 2013]

The Mayo Clinic is a world famous non-profit hospital that has annual profits of over $600 million. I used to go to a Mayo Clinic branch. They’re great and I have only positive things to say about them. They certainly help Rochester (their home base – and another small city that I do genuinely like). But, if you’re expansion is dependent on $500 million in state aid, then it’s not sustainable. Sorry Mayo.

Officials are forecasting 25,000 to 30,000 new jobs as a result. These numbers make the Field of Dreams numbers seem tame. Who are these economic development consultants?Who is doing this math? If we build this one development, the town will add jobs that are the equivalent of 1/4 the population of the town? Thankfully there is some skepticism in the State Legislature [hear ye’, hear ye’]!

The link is here. I want to thank the 12 people who e-mailed me a link to the podcast! I’ll have to start listening again.

  • Three ways to improve walkability without touching the streets

One of my favorite bloggers, Bill Lindeke, had a great post at Streets.MN about how to improve walkability without doing any expensive redesigns. All of them involve easy-to-use technologies that already exist (which is a plus): Add red light cameras, no turn on red and actually go the distance and ban cell phones in cars.

  • Downtown St. Paul – Does it need more “Class A” office space? [Star Tribune]

I remember hearing an interview with Mayor Coleman of St. Paul. He said that St. Paul is doing the big stuff right (e.g.: Excel, Saints, Etc.) and that it now needed to concentrate on the small stuff. I was surprised when I heard him say that St. Paul needs another ‘Class A’ office tower. With St. Paul vacancy up (and Minneapolis down) in the office market, it seems like a big, new tower might be one of the last things the city needs.

“Mayor Chris Coleman has said he’d like to see it torn down and replaced with a Class A office building, with first- and second-floor amenities that tie in with downtown’s bar and restaurant scene.”Star Tribune

The Macy’s building isn’t actually very good. However, I’m not sure if it needs to be torn down. I recommend us not making the mistakes of the past. I think this building might be best under-utilized or not used at all as opposed to meeting the wrecking ball. The last thing St. Paul needs right now is a parking lot – and I’m not confident the office market (unless heavily subsidized) would accommodate the site at the time being.

I wrote this thing for Strong Towns. Don’t read the comment section – it gets a little too violent. I like this idea, and I think it’s important for a lot of struggling cities, so I wanted to re-post some of it …

Believe it or not, Omaha has some good urbanism. There is a solid urban form, nice architecture and it’s all intertwined into a historic fabric. Minus the excessively large one-way streets, most urbanists would be very pleased to replicate this in their hometowns.

There is a problem with Omaha’s best urban neighborhood: it’s loud, drunk and single-use. Correction. That’s only on Friday and Saturday night. The problem with Omaha’s best urban neighborhood: it’s silent, empty and single-use.

While originally having many diverse purposes, the Old Market neighborhood now is mainly articulated around one function: entertainment (and the odd antique shop). This would be tolerable if Omaha had other similar neighborhoods. They don’t – and neither do most American cities. That is precisely why we can’t be surrendering our best places over exclusively to entertainment.

We should not be disconnecting our downtowns from all other aspects of life. And, while it’s tempting to pursue entertainment as a vehicle of downtown revitalization, it will only get you so far. Proposals for entertainment districts occasionally sprout up in City Council meetings as the next big thing. While it certainly is tempting in its efforts to capitalize on people’s passion for retail, sports, food and drink, it is a development prospect that should be viewed with skepticism. You can read more on Entertainment Districts here.