Central Avenue plan update comments due early April

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Pronouncing Central Avenue’s future “incredibly bright” with lots of redevelopment opportunities, Andrew Dresdner of the Cuningham Group presented the Central Avenue Small Area Plan Feb. 7.

The public can read the details and comment on the plan, which will be posted to a website, for 45 days from Feb. 19, the posting date. It will also be available at the Northeast library.

The plan carries no money, but would be a city-sanctioned guide for evaluating future development proposals.

Those who attended this last public meeting, including many of the plan’s steering committee, liked many of the ideas about the scale and visual interest in the types of buildings in the commercial and “Arts Quarter” areas. They agreed with the way the consultants divided the avenue in three areas by their character and identified intersections where commercial and housing “nodes” could be built up.

They seem relieved that the consultants suggested ways that Lowry Avenue traffic, bike lanes and parking could be accommodated without acquiring land and taking down corner buildings (as would be called for in Hennepin County’s Lowry Avenue Plan). Council Member Paul Ostrow said the City Council is trying to talk with the County about changing the Lowry Avenue plan.

The Central Avenue Small Area Plan, which will eventually be adopted as part of the 2008 Minneapolis Comprehensive Plan, seeks to “eliminate weaknesses and build on strengths, incrementally,” Dresdner said. “It’s rare to find transformative opportunities, but Central has them” also.

He pointed to Shoreham Yards, where an 18-acre site including the roundhouse and the frontage along Central, could, according to the railroad management, be available, Dresdner said, for development within five years and house 2,000 “living wage” jobs.

The consultants say that by filling in some of the blank spaces in another industrial area, from Broadway to 18th, Quincy to Tyler, another major area could be transformed, into a more walkable and interesting arts-oriented area. They envision buildings old and new, with “public” uses such as stores, museums, and restaurants on the main floors, studios above. Smaller existing spaces could form a network of green plazas, “forecourts,” and logical connecting walkways.

They say they have analyzed the parcel size (sufficient for such buildings and plazas) and property ownership in the area. There are currently some properties for sale and no single owner monopolizing the control at present, making it possible for private parties to take actions consistent with the plan.

Also proposed is an “art trail” which would carry an arts theme all the way up the avenue after meandering through the area from Northrup King to Tyler Street north and south of 14th Avenue. It would involve pedestals incorporating art motifs to be developed through a community process with business support. Those attending generally thought this idea worthy of finding some kind of funding to flesh out the details.

“The arts are a force in Northeast but don’t have a strong presence on Central Avenue,” Dresdner said, “we heard this a lot in the focus groups.”

The three different area identities:

37th to 29th: Park

29th to 18th: Urban

18th to Broadway: Creative

A fourth area, from Broadway to Seventh Street SE, is considered “transitional” and was not discussed at the meeting.

The proposed nodes, or strongest concentrations of business and building heights:

37th and 29th, with neighborhood-serving retail;

Lowry and 18th, the highest density, on a more regional level.

The plan gives guidance on how, if a block or significant portion of one is redeveloped in the 18th to 29th commercial core, the parking should be situated. In general, the consultants would keep the store buildings along the front of the avenue and build taller buildings and parking structures behind them, with 2-story residential structures along Jackson or Polk facing the existing neighborhood (altering the alleys and replacing the current housing).

Referring to the avenue as a “zipper” that ties several areas together, they suggest that some of the parking lots that now face residential areas across Polk and Jackson be “mended” through these redevelopments.

The consultants showed an example of the southwest corner of Lowry and Central, preserving the Arcana building and other storefronts, building taller buildings with a parking structure behind them (combining with the present church parking).

On the southeast corner, a public plaza would be part of the suggested redevelopment, putting a “signature public space at Northeast’s 100 percent corner,” the plan says. A taller building where height steps up gradually, would be behind the plaza; by the time the development reached the Polk Avenue side, it would be lower height again, two-or three-level townhomes.

The plan calls for Central Avenue to have an identifiable center at Lowry and Central.

Some at the meeting expressed concern that while there are several suggestions for making the Avenue more pedestrian friendly, there didn’t seem to be much mention of alternative transit such as bikes and street cars.

Dresdner said Central Avenue (which recently fell off the city’s short list for streetcar routes) actually has points in its favor for future consideration. It could connect to a route that is higher on the list, as well as the Columbia Heights bus hub, and, it is close to land that could be used for a maintenance facility.

Again, there is no implementation money tied to the plan; it will guide the city’s evaluation of future development proposals if investors of various means come forward. And it encourages groups like the Northeast Community Development Corporation to seek such developers and work on encouraging better commercial signage and recruiting businesses to the Avenue.

Those attending the Feb. 7 meeting talked about a way to celebrate the plan’s eventual adoption, such as helping a business clean out and move into a vacant storefront, or cleaning up an area of rough landscaping.

Watch the nenorthnews.com web site for a link to the plan (to be posted about Feb. 19) and a schedule of city actions relating to it and the Minneapolis Comprehensive Plan.

(Margo Ashmore is Publisher of the Northeaster and helped organize the Feb. 7 meeting.)

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